That's the problem with my habit of picking blog titles out well before the events to be blogged have happened, but I decided two or three weeks ago that this would what I had to say about my third trip to the Ouachita Challenge. It's kind true, but it needs some qualifiers:
It actually does hurt less when you're going faster, because it's awesome.
It hurts a lot less physically when you get pulled halfway through the race, but it hurts pretty frickin' bad emotionally.
Basically, the race started off well. After things startle to settle near the end of the road section, I was sitting well out of last place, and I could think of at least 6-8 girls in my wake, and possibly more that were behind me from the gun. By the time we hit the singletrack, I was catching and passing a few people. I had been working really hard on the road, and tried to ease up a bit on the singletrack and just kind of get down to business. While I was settling and trying to eat, I got caught by a group of people, who I rode with then eventually passed most of, all except for two guys that I was riding with near the end of Big Brushy. (BTW, Big Brushy is way more fun when you aren't bonked out of your mind.)
Anyway, I was in the middle of trying to adjust my pace and decide whether I was going too hard staying with those guys, and then my back tire made the decision for me. I think the Giant 29er wheels' supposed ability to run really low pressure even with tubes is limited to much smoother trails and not for bouncing over a bajillion rocks as fast as my handling skills would allow. I'd already heard a bunch of bad sounding noises, but I just hoping it would hold and I was going to try to add some air at the aid station. Anyway, I was having a horrible time getting the tire of the rim to change it and lost a lot of time while all the girls I had passed flew by with the rhetorical "Are you okay?", which means "I'm not stopping unless you have a concussion." Finally, a nice guy (thanks again!) helped me and I made to the aid station frustrated and chilled to the bone, due to standing still in the drizzly upper 40's conditions after working up a sweat.
I got some toe warmers at the aid station, but it still took quite a bit of time slowly bobbing and weaving up Blowout Mountain to get warm enough to feel human again, especially since my delay had placed me back behind all but a few stragglers, instead of the speedier crowd I'd been with before. Blowout Mountain is in fact waaaaaaaaay easier in direction we did it this year, because at least after you make it over the worst rock gardens, it's a nice long descent to without too much technical stuff. (The past two years, it's been a long grindy climb followed by a rocky descent that requires stopping to get off the bike a lot for all of the rock gardens.) I did it about 45 minutes faster than last year, but I'm pretty sure it was more the direction than my improved abilities.
Anyway, I just kept moving forward after that, hoping I would make the cutoff times, of which I only knew I had to clear the last aid station by 3:00. At a few minutes to 1:00, I was chugging along the dirt road in the middle of the course, hoping that the "unknown section" that I was venturing into could be completed in under two hours. It didn't matter though, because I saw some cars up ahead and thought they were just giving me my zip tie, but they said that I had missed the 1:00 cutoff my 2 minutes. I hadn't even worried about the 1:00 cutoff, because in past years they set it so ridiculously easy that even I made it with lots of time to spare. If I had just read a little more closely, I would have known to hurry my butt up and would have made it. Stupid....
So my fastest year so far was the year that I didn't finish. I have a funny feeling that my tooth and nail fighting to the finish the last two years somehow resulted in my missing the finish last year. After carefully reviewing the cutoff times (hindsight is 20/20), I realized that even with the increased distance and difficulty, there was a very strategic plan laid out that would absolutely guarantee everyone would be off the course by 5:00 p.m., probably because I kept everyone waiting past 6:00 the last two years. I can't really blame them, but it was definitely a bummer.
The last two years I would have left the race saying, "I'll do better next year", but this I have more of a feeling that I wish I could give it another shot as soon as my legs recover. I know I had a better race in me, but it just didn't happen. The good news is that this year I have Syllamo's Revenge (Rodkey's Revenge?) in five weeks, and I'll have another shot at doing things right.