Monday, February 8, 2016

The D&L Fat Epic

It’s time to let you in on a little secret that long-time readers may have already figured out. For all of my past endurance cycling aspirations, I’ve only actually ever ridden more than 80 miles on a bike at a time twice in my life. The first was an uneventful road century that I jumped into at my coach’s prompting as preparation for my attempt at the Pisgah stage race in 2009. The second was yesterday, on a fat bike, in the snow (and a variety of other conditions).

The end of what was actually 83.7 miles and a variety of conditions that required three cycles through the washer today.

So given the information above, you can imagine that I was a bit intimidated when I heard that the second race of the New Jersey Fat Bike Series would be 80 miles. Sure it was pancake flat, but it was still 80 miles on a fat bike, probably in the snow. Still I took it as a sign that if I was intimidated, most other women would be, too, so I just had to make it my job to finish all of the races, and I should do well in the overall series.

As the weeks between Marty’s and the D&L flew by in a haze of trainer sweat and sore muscles without a good quality long ride in between, I got a bit more worried. I cut last week’s training to one easy ride, one weight workout, and one trainer workout surrounded by two complete rest days. I jumped on the trainer for a very light opener workout on Saturday, and it seemed that most of the over trained heaviness had lifted at least.

When we took off on Sunday morning, I knew that I just had to keep pedaling until it was over and not worry about much else. The beginning of the race was fast, frozen, and mostly clear of snow. This meant me immediately falling to DFL from the main race start and watching those riders disappear around the time a handful of riders from the adventure class caught and passed me as well. I spun easily along and alternated between making jokes to myself about “The DFL Epic” and I thinking, “I can do this ALL DAY!” in the voice of Schmidt on The New Girl.

After about ten miles we got into the section where snow covered the whole trail for long stretches at a time, rather than the patches that we could mostly ride around until that point. I was being overtaken by a group of adventure class riders as we hit the first big patch, and I started to slide because I was worried about what they were doing, which broke my concentration from riding. I figure that was a good time to stop and take my first gel of the day and unscrew the top of my frozen bottle for a drink.

When I got going again, I was alone with the snow and learned how to churn through it quickly. Riding in packed, frozen snow was as fun as I imagined it to be when I bought a fat bike and imagined riding in winter. It just took until the first week of February to finally get some “hero snow” to get that experience. It was the same thing that I love about ‘cross when you’re all about balancing and finding a good line. At this point, I was trying make up lyrics to go with “I like a strong pelvic girdle and I cannot lie,” as my balance and line selection were starting to move me back up through the pack, and I was thinking that I might actually be good at the whole fat biking thing if I just had “a motor in the back of my Honda”. The mind does a lot of weird stuff to get through a long day in the saddle.

I was actually having fun and picking people off until the turnaround, but with conditions being slower than I had expected, I had already been riding for four hours at the halfway point. And they only got slower as the temperature rose to the mid-fourties, and the 5-10 miles closest to the turnaround turned into slushy, muddy slop fest.

By the time I got back to the snow, it had turned into the wheel-grabbing slush that had been beating me up in Rothrock the past two weekends (mashed potato snow as another racer called it). Combine this with the butt and back pain that inevitably comes after five hours in the saddle (at least for me), and fact that I was starting to get hungry every 30-40 minutes instead of having to force myself to eat on the hour, and it paints a picture of what I was afraid of when I first became afraid of an 80 mile fat bike race. Eventually, it will start to hurt. Bad.

The good thing is that I knew that the point where it would start to hurt bad was a likely scenario, but I also had been there enough times to know that I could handle it. I had even been through it enough to plan ahead with some coping strategies. I had packed enough bananas and gels to last the seven hours I’d planned on riding, but I’d also made an emergency Plan B. I knew that since there was only one aid station at the halfway point, I needed to have some calorie-dense item of food in my possession that I would want to eat no matter how crappy I felt. I also knew that if I were at that point, clean eating would not matter. When we stopped for dinner at Troeg’s Brewery (the unsuspecting best restaurant in PA), I got a Java Head Brownie to stick in my feed bag for just that occasion. If you have never had one of these ridiculously large, stout and goat cheese laced, dense mounds of chocolately goodness, I will say that one is worth all of the other chocolate in Hershey combined.

Okay, so I ate a little off the top on Saturday night so that it would fit in the bag.

For much of the race I’d actually thought that the brownie would end up as an after-dinner treat once was I was finished, cleaned-up, warm, and fed, but at 12 miles to go, it did serve its intended purpose. I saw a picnic table next to the trail, and I knew that it was time. I sat down, texted Frank my ETA, removed my muddy gloves, and ate my brownie. After that I was able to brave the last two miles of mush snow, and hit the slightly faster muddy trail to the end, nine hours after I began.

I was the last female to finish, but given how tough the race was, that still meant fourth place (and I beat six dudes!). The top three women were all serious badasses, so I’ll really have to tune up the motor in the back of my Honda if I was to stick with them in the future, but for now I’m happy just to have finished this monster of a race. I now stand third in the series, and will probably stay that way unless one or both of the top two girls miss a race. The good news is that the last two races are four hour lap races, so they won’t take more than four hours no matter how slow conditions get. I think that also means that I technically only have to do one lap at each to “finish” and retain my place in the series. Of course I plan on doing more, but as I mentioned above, a Plan B is always good.


Also, little did I know while I was suffering through my journey, but Frank ended up in third place overall! He was in about sixth when I saw him after the turnaround, but I guess he made up a couple of places and a couple of people missed turns, so I was super excited to hear the news when I finished. Bummed I missed his podium, though.

No comments: