Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More than you ever wanted to know about the Cohutta 100...

2007 Cohutta 100 Race Report

I arrived at the Ducktown Copper Inn around 2pm on Friday. Dan Jansen, Mark Hendershot and I discussed strategy, and then Dan and I did a 1.5 hour pre-ride of the first part of the course. This consisted of riding the first single-track loop backwards. Why backwards? Why not? Anyway, it went fine for me, but Dan crashed pretty hard on a downhill. We chalked it up to experience. A couple of plates of pasta and we were ready to call it a night.

Saturday morning dawned bright and chilly. The temps at the start line were downright cold, maybe in the low 40’s. Although there was much heated discussion about arm warmers and such, in the end I chose to start with naked legs and arms.

Lesson #1: GPS might not work in the Mountains. My GPS had no signal for the first hour or so of the ride. That threw off my mileage for the race, which was aggravating but not catastrophic.

The race starts with a fairly long pavement climb. I was able to stay within 100 yards of the leaders as they made the turn into the single track. The traffic jam at the start of the trail allowed me to close that gap.

The first section of trail is very fast and smooth. I got stuck behind a group of three riders; one single speeder and two geared riders. The ss guy was leading. He was smooth, but I could have gone faster. I wasn’t too worried, since I know you don’t win a 100-mile race in the first 20 minutes. But still, I knew there were people ahead of me that were getting away.

I passed the ss rider on a short paved decent that led down to a flat section along the river. This was bumpy but rideable. I noticed that my perpetum/sustained energy mixture was not flowing out of my bottle as freely as I would like. This forced me to squeeze the bottle quite hard to get any fluid. It was also about this time that Danielle Musto passed me. That was the last time I’d see her before the finish.

Lesson #2: Perpetum should not be used as a face and/or body wash…

After the bumpy section, we turned left to cross a suspension bridge. On the bridge, I decided to remove the blockage from my food bottle by squeezing it as hard as I could. Instead of forcing out the clot, this caused the top of the bottle to fly free and the contents of the bottle to splash on my face, eyes, hair, ears, computer, handlebar and gloves! Crap! The thick goo in my eyes caused me to loose control and crash on the bridge. I was shocked and pissed off, but I picked myself up and moved out of the way of traffic.

I though I was about to have some serious difficulty, but the day was saved by Shari Scurr. Shari is a Michigan racer/MMBA supporter who happened to be at this race supporting other riders. She saw my crash and grabbed my now-empty bottle, which she filled up with water. She also promised to have some perpetum for me later in the race if I needed it. With her help and a quick inventory of my bike (mostly fine) and body (sticky but functional) I decided to press on.

Well, during all this excitement several people passed me, including the single speed guy from the first part of the race! Oh, well. I got back on the bike and started riding. My plan was to use my ‘emergency’ gel packets to get to Aid Station #2, where I had a well-supplied drop bag. I would be a bit short of food, but what can you do? So on I rode.

After maybe another 10 miles of mostly fun singletrack, we got into the gravel road riding. This course has one major and three minor climbs. At the base of the first climb is Aid Station #1. I hoped they would have Hammer Gel packets, and they did! I grabbed a handful and the volunteer at the station tore the top off one for me as well. I clipped back in and turned the corner with all this gel in my hand, only to be faced with one of the first high-speed downhills of the day! I ended up dropping or squeezing several of the gel packets, getting thick goo all over my glove and handlebar. Awesome, more sticky shit. Just what I need. At least I got one or two gel packets out of the deal.

Now starts the climbing. Mile 25 to Mile 35 is pretty much all climbing, some of it quite steep. On paper, Mile 35 to Mile 55 look less challenging and I had heard the terrain described as “rolling”. After a long, fast decent from Mile 55 to Mile 75, there are three smaller climbs each about 3 miles long or so.

My plan was to hammer the first climb, since it was the longest and the earliest so I might still have fresh legs. Then I planned to coast through the “rollers” and survive the three smaller climbs.

As it turned out, the “rollers” were anything but! They were steep ups and downs with no place to recover. I was pissed because I had put some serious energy into the first climb and really needed a rest. I went back and forth with a group of three other riders. I would catch them as they spun up the climbs in an easy gear, and they would catch me on the downhills as they hammered the 44x12. There wasn’t much talking; I was suffering too much on the climbs and they were moving too fast on the descents.

Anyway, I made it to the top of the first climb and got my drop bag. It had some more hammer gel, and overall my energy level was about right. I put some Heed in the empty bottle I brought along for ‘emergencies’ and hoped it would be enough to get me to Aid Station #3 where I had another bottle of Perpetum.

The climbs on this course were brutal for a Michigan boy. I’m not much of a climber to begin with, and we don’t have anything like these hills where I train. The hills would just keep getting steeper and longer around each corner. Over the years, I have ridden outside of Michigan and have learned to look for the warning signs that the hill might be longer than it looks. For example, if it looks like the hill will be cresting “just around the corner” but you are still kind of down in a valley, then most likely you still have some climbing to do that is hiding around that corner. For some reason, I never got demoralized by the climbing in this race. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard. But I went in to the race knowing that I would spend a lot of time suffering so I just put my head down and kept pushing along.

The downhills were tricky as well. I put a nice, light carbon fork on the bike for this race. It was welcome on the climbs, but it made the 35+ MPH downhill sections a handful. The roads had loose gravel and stutter bumps, so my hands were often numb by the time I got to the bottom. Traction was an issue as well. In the end, I kept the rubber side down.

Lesson #3: Girrrrrrl Power!

The rest of the race was fairly anti-climactic. One final story: I have a problem staying in ‘race mode’ during these long point-to-point events. People get pretty strung out, and it is possible to go hours without seeing another rider. Around Mile 55 or so, I started to slip into ‘ride mode’: not pushing hard and starting to look around and enjoy the scenery. I pulled off to the side of the course to take a ‘nature break’. As I was finishing up, a rider on a bright orange Niner ss with full Niner team kit flew buy me. I’m thinking “What in the heck is Dejay Birtch doing behind me?!?” I figured he must have had a crash or some health problems or somesuch. Anyway, I hopped back on the bike and hammered to catch him. Well, I was able to catch up pretty quickly but it wasn’t Dejay. It was his teammate Leslie Williams! Yes, a female ss rider caught and passed me. Well, I am pretty used to getting beat by women in these races since I ride with Danielle Musto quite a bit, but not buy a woman on a singlespeed. That got me back to race mode pretty quick. We rode near each other for a bit. She had an easier gear which helped her on the hills. I had a harder gear so I worked hard on the flats and less-steep climbing pitches and was able to get away and stay away. I still only beat her by about 5 minutes.

Other Michigan riders did well: Mark was 7th (!), Dan Jansen got 13th on a 1x9, Teammate Paula rode her singlespeed to a sub-11 hour finish, Super Bon Bon was Top-5 in the 35 miler.

At the finish, I assumed that I was pretty far off the pace. I was very surprised when I found out I was in 5th Place for Singlespeed. I’m pleased with the result, and I learned some things that will help me in future 100 mile races. The course was good, the race was well-managed. I will plan to do this race in the future.

9 comments:

Steve Kinley said...

Nice write up, but it's Shari Scurr, not Kerr. I'll have to let the guys at Hammer know you found a new use for their products as a sunblock.

Joe Partridge said...

Steve,

Thanks for the scurr/kerr note; I'll fix that!

Yeah, I love Hammer. But I have to say, that stuff set up like cement in my hair, eyebrows, eye lashes, etc. And my jersey could stand up buy itself! I did find that I like Heed, which I have stayed away from since I had a bad experince with it. It really hit the spot during that ride...

Steve Kinley said...

I like HEED but only use it in events under 2.5 hours. Longer and I use Sustained Energy or Perpetuem, usually mixed with gel.

What gearing did you run at the race?

Endurosnob said...

"Lesson #2: Perpetum should not be used as a face and/or body wash…"

Noted and hysterical. I am sure people just assumed it was hair gel.

namrita o'dea said...

Nice work. Will have to meet you in person next time! Yeah...those climbs..they're brutal even when you live in Georgia :)

Joe Kucharski said...

Joe,

Great job at the race and I enjoyed your story.

Squirrel said...

Your write up of all I've read so far make me want to change me mind about this race...just maybe next year...have to get an Iowa crew up and ready:) thanks for your comments on the rear end debockle, I will be pursuing legal action on his dumb ass. Also linking you up bro.

Peace

paula said...

Great recap! That Perpetuem story just gets funnier and funnier every time :-)

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