By: Beth Fulton (proving that the road team aren’t the only people on the steps)
So it did not look as much like a Team Bike Lane invasion out at Rocky Gap as it did at Bakers, but we did have a decent turnout and the shout-outs while on the trail were welcomed… even when I was called Sarah, which happened several times (ok, for the most part those were not TBLers).
So as everyone else did, I began looking at the weather early on and it was originally looking like it was going to be PERFECT… then, by Thursday it was looking like total crap. I was considering changing up my tire selection to something a bit faster rolling, but luckily I waited to verify the weather and ended up sticking with my Continental Trail Kings (which were perfect, again). While I have had great success with them, I have to say I am looking forward to the time that I do not HAVE to have these tires on race day. Maybe I’ll find a dry day for racing this year!
On the drive up to Rocky Gap (left early Saturday morning) the weather ranged from a little sun poking through looking like it was going to clear, to a full downpour. As I passed the exit for Greenbrier, I thought of how nice it would be to join my other teammates for a nice ride followed by Dogfish Heads brews instead of heading into a wet/stormy 9 Hour event. The closer I got to Rocky Gap, the thicker the fog got; the weather was not looking promising. “Oh well,” I figured “it shouldn’t be any worse than Bakers.”
I pitted with Sarah, Kim Wendell and a few of the usual PVC/XXL suspects. Luckily, the others got there early and we had some prime real estate, right on the side of the course just before the transition area. Most of us were entered as solo racers so it was a fairly empty pit area, which meant it was not tempting to kick back and relax between laps. We also had some competitive folks (Bender from PVC, Simona from XXL) so that was motivating as well. My strategy was to complete 3 laps, pit for water/food refills, 3 laps, pit, and 3 final laps. The only miss in my strategy was the 9th lap… I missed the cut-off by 9 minutes (9:08 to be exact).
I took off, probably mid-back of the pack with the start, and as usual the single track was bottlenecked pretty quickly making that first lap slow until the water station on the way up to the upper (aka climbing) area. Even with the congestion I completed my first lap in about 55 minutes, so I was on-target with my goal. As planned, I blew through the pit and kept going posting a 53 minute 2nd lap. The third lap was my pit and it was still a sub-hour lap…I was tracking right about where I wanted to be. On my 3rd lap I grabbed extra endurolytes sensing some cramping sneaking up on me…and I was right to do so. On lap 4 I felt a bit of cramping popped a few ELs and was good to go….then I noticed close to the end of the lap I had lost my stash. I battled internally whether I should stray from my strategy and grab some ELs or just hope for the best on lap 5. As I pulled through the pit areas, I saw Simona stopped, so I kept moving. I knew she was ahead of me and also figured that she was either tracking 1st or 2nd, so I needed to try and grab some time while I could. Not too long into the 5th lap I felt a bit of cramping, so I was concerned about my decision to bypass extra ELs, but I figured I would just keep an eye out in case my stash magically appeared on the trail. I passed by the water station (my mental 1/2 way point), headed up and down a couple of hills…and right as I’m heading down the next one I see a beautiful shade of pink…my EL case. I stopped, quickly picked it up, and kept on trucking excited that I had my backup…that small find gave me a little extra to finish out that lap. Of course, it must have been more of a mental need than physical, because I ended up not needing any more.
Simona ended up catching me on lap 6. She passed me in the last climbing area just before the rocky downhill section. She pulled away, but thanks to my 29er, I catch up and pass her on the downhills. I debated making my scheduled lap 6 pit, but know I cannot make it another 3 laps without additional water. Simona pulls up to the pit shortly after I pulled in, but doesn’t really stop, so she’s ahead of me again. At this point, I officially find out that she and I are battling for 2nd. I take off trying to catch up with her, but never see her again. My plan was to complete 9 laps, and as I pulled in to the transition area at the end of lap 7, I realized that I would have to push it to make the cut off. I push with whatever I have left (which is not much, in fact I think I scared Bruce during my lap 7 climb because I looked so bad). All was going ok, but I was getting a bit sloppy in the technical sections from fatigue. I hit the rocky area (which I really hated by that point) and had a nasty wreck… I now have a very colorful hip as a result. Between letting others pass and just shaking off the spill, it took me a few minutes to get back on the bike and moving. I hit the aid station and had 36 minutes (if I remember correctly) to the cutoff… so, while not completely out of the question, the chances are looked pretty slim. I hit the steep climb in the back, which I had ridden all day and had to hop off and push my bike up the last half of the climb. The day had really worn on me at that point. I push when I can…still hoping to either find Simona, or beat the cutoff time. I finally pass back by the aid station towards the final (and fast) section, but it is clear that lap 9 is not happening this year. I still do what I can wanting to finish strong…I finally saw the parking/finish area and finish as fast (although it was not actually fast) as I can (I NEED A BEER!).
I took 3rd and am happy with the results; however, that fall hurt a bit more when I discovered I was only THIRTY SECONDS out of 2nd place after 8 hours of racing. Oh well…I had a great race. I felt much stronger than last year, and was able to almost keep up with someone that I know is a very good racer (since she kicked my butt all last year). It was also awesome having someone competitive to chase as I’m sure that was another reason I was able to push a bit harder. As usual, the EX2 folks did a fantastic job.
Thanks to the the TBLers out at Rocky Gap…it was great to see you and get cheered on along the way. Also a big thanks to my Reston TBL shop support for keeping my bike in good condition! Alright – time to officially sign up for Quantico!