- Meredith beats three other ladies to win the solo women’s race in 11:10:41, completing her longest and hardest ride to-date.
- Adam sets a new course record by 3 minutes, taking the win in 8:33:02
- Lee signs up day-off despite protestations “he did not train for this event” to take 7th in 9:38. Told ya dude.
- Probably the nicest weather all summer, despite all the suffering it caused, it was hard not to appreciate how gorgeous it was.
- Oh ya, I had an OK day too I guess. I shaved 29 minutes off my previous PR from last year to take 5th, hammering for seven of nine hour with Kevin to finish a mere 23 seconds behind Kevin in 9:23:57
|Photo: M. Stewart|
My fourth Soggy, I rode this one pretty much exactly to plan. Everything was about as dialed in as it can be for nearly 10 hours in the saddle. I rode to Cooper at a sustainable race-pace, driving a few key sections, but waited until I turned around for leg 2 Cooper-Devils to attack. I dropped my long-time closest “rival” Kevin, and clipped 4 more positions on the way to the Devils trail head, and then rode with what I had left to Hope. I botched a feed heading up Devils due to overheating, and that put a short-lived air gap in the fuel lines, slowing me down long enough that Kevin, who had since overtaken the other riders we’d been yo-yoing with all day, caught back up. He and I proceeded to hammer each other and the trail for the next 30 miles to the finish.
I was stacked with other riders almost all day, it felt more like a race than any other Soggy I’ve done. It was, in a word: incredible. Racing against Kevin is awesome, he’s the only other rider since Mike K left the state who I’d consider in my cohort, who just crushes me on descents and technical stretches of trail. We are both “hold-our-own” riders on climbs, not cardio rats by any stretch, so it feels like real, head-to-head mountain biking when it comes down to it.
The cruel fate of the race this year for many was the heat. The irony of this was certainly not lost on me. Where the summer of 2016 was hot and dry, only to have race day arrive cool and wet, this summer it’s been pretty average for AK: cool and damp. The rains missed the Kenai in the week or so leading up to the race though, and temps rose into the mid 70s (the ambient on the baked climbs in the very tall vegetation easily climbed into the 80s). Some people refered to the race this year as the “Scorched Bottom.”
Turnout for the front end of the race was a little soft. Adam, Chuck, and Brian rode in a class of their own, though toward the end of the race I held a little hope that Kevin and I might reel Brian in. It was not to be though.
The second grupetto as it was, proved to be more evenly matched throughout much of the race, and was fairly consolidated.
We all took off at 9:10, and the pace line to the trailhead went pretty hard. We were up the road and on trail in 15 minutes! For some reason, Chuck, Adam, and I did the bulk of the pulling. I didn’t feel too bad riding on the front, it helped open up my legs, and once we hit the trail, I slid into the back and geared it down.
Chuck said the lead group rode together to the East Creek climb, before Adam attacked and blew up the group. Adam and Chuck separated, riding together to Cooper. Chuck said he thought the group was largely at their limit before the attack, no one could talk.
A few miles from the trail head, James H passed me. Shortly after, Lee caught up. Lee and I caught James a few minutes later, and the three of us paced until Lee and I went around James on the last canyon climb before the Resurrection Creek trestle.
Lee and I rode together up and over the pass. Though neither of us spoke, it was nice to have the company.
Lee did ask as we crested the pass how our pace was.
I felt like garbage, in a good way, but I knew we were right on pace, and feeling bad gave me the impression we were probably actually doing pretty good.
As we began to drop into the descent to Swan Lake, I started to pull away from Lee, and caught sight of Kevin for the first time of the day, less than 30 seconds down the trail. About halfway down the Swan Lake descent, I had closed the gap to Kevin to 5 seconds, when I burped my front tire.
I had visions of my race ending, and having to hike out. Panic began to build.
I rolled softly until I found a break in the thick wall of vegetation and jumped off. The bugs immediately began to swarm. If I had to change a tire, it was going to be miserable.
Lee came by before I had my pump out. The tire held air though, and I was back on the trail in less than 5 minutes. I added a bit more pressure despite drier and looser conditions that warranted softer PSI.
My gut was clenched as I bopped my way through the ruts and divets on the rest of the descent to Swan, but the tire seemed fine.
I caught sight of Kevin again on the shores of Juneau Lake. He had been overtaken by Lee. I donlt remember where I passed Kevin.
Juneau to Bean Creek Jct. was one of the zones I planned to drill. I don’t remember anything here. I know Kevin clipped on for a while, but I don’t know how long he stayed with me. I know I didn’t put a lot of space between us.
Descending to Coopers was pretty low stress. I had good sight lines on all the approaching riders, and other than Adam and Chuck, most the riders were still bunched up pretty close to the base of the climb, so my gap was fairly small.
Kevin caught back up to me right as we hit the dismount at the parking lot. Lee was just departing as I reached the timers. We high fived. I was stoked for Lee. He was crushing it.
Turnaround was super smooth. Carly’s support is so amazing. Little Gus helped steady my bike while I lubed the chain and checked my tire pressure – which I was glad to see, was unchanged. Whatever happened on the descent appeared to be a fluke.
I chugged most of a 16oz bottle of 50% dilute of Liquid I.V., swallowed a fruity Kind bar that was happily melted and gooey in the heat, and grabbed my alternate pack.
Back on the trail, Kevin followed me back into the woods, and we were back on the trail.
I had plans for Leg 2.
People hate this leg. I hate it too, but that makes it a good place to attack. With Kevin right behind me, we drilled the climb out of Cooper. I was surprised to see later, that even though we were able to chat a little as we climbed, I still set a PR on a segment of the climb. Descending riders were courteous and we didn’t have any issues.
I was stoked when I saw Meredith. I expected to see her much sooner than I did last year, and sure enough, she was already ahead of half the men’s field and on track to shave 18 minutes off her Hope-Cooper time from 2016!
Keeping to plan, I drilled it from the top of the Cooper climb to the base of the summer trail cut-off hike-a-bike.
All I remember is briefly passing David B, and separating from Kevin by a little bit around Juneau Lake.
On the way, I primed the fuel lines.
Off the bike and hiking around the first switchback of the cut-off, Kevin closed the small gap, and we found Owen, stopped, stretching his cramping legs.
The three of us finished up the hike.
I had my two biggest challengers from last year grouped up, right where I wanted them. Now I needed to get distance between us through the stony climb to Devils Junction.
After Owen’s explosive climb up Devils in the 3rd leg last season, I knew he was a force to be reckoned with, and could contend for the rest of this climb; I knew I could distance Kevin up the climb, but he’d gain ground on the descent. If either of them got to the Devils trail head checkpoint with me, they would be a real threat for the finish.
Unfortunately for Owen, the leg cramps would get the better of him, and he would not contend on the climb, and would fade.
I dieseled my way through the rocky Swan grade, and as I got my first sight of the Devils Junction from afar, I caught a glimpse of a David F. I reeled him in just before the final pitch to the Junction, and came around. He said another rider was just in front of us. I suspected it was Lee.
David clipped on as we began the flowy cruise to Devils Pass proper, and I want to say about the time we rounded Devils Lake, I saw Lee’s red and white jersey up ahead.
We caught and overtook Lee not long after entering the Devils rocks.
I had a near-spectacular wreck crossing the Henry Brook twin fords. Wanting to get as a big a splash as possible, I railed the first of the two ice-cold streams at full speed. I’d never tried this, and I hydroplaned and nearly flipped over the bars down the downstream side! I have no idea how I managed to keep upright.
David and I built a 2 minute gap on Lee on the remainder of the Devils descent.
A couple moments of comic relief broke up the descent. One came when I nearly hit a small bird and yelled to David behind me if he’d seen it. He couldn’t hear what I said, and thought I said: “Make bird noises.” (I’m not sure how he arrived at this).
I was yelling constantly as I expected to see Adam, Chuck, Brian, and Greg. David proceeded to make cawing noises for the next few minutes in accompaniment to my hollering, until our pace finally mellowed out enough to clear the confusion. Keep in mind, I had no idea who this guy was, all I knew was that he lived in Spain, and was clipped on my wheel, cawing like a crow.
The next moment of comic relief came lower down thanks to my ancient camelback I re-enlisted for use on this leg.
Tearing through the winding trail and head-high veg near the base, the bite valve caught my leg or handle bar and popped off: water began to squirt everywhere from the out of control hose.
Trying to hang on with one hand, get the hose under control with the other, and spraying myself in the face, I expected to slam into poor Chuck at any second.
Fortunately, Chuck was still a little further down the trail, and I managed to close the valve.
What a junk show!
David and I powered up the climb to the trail head, but were finally able to chat a little bit.
We rolled in, I chugged another bottle of 50% dilute of Liquid I.V., lubed my chain, took my snack, and looked around.
Lee had rolled in while I transitioned. Neither he nor David was ready to roll.
I unclicked my suspension for the mini descent and dropped back in. Kevin rolled in just as I rolled out.
David caught me as we began the actual climb. I asked if he wanted to come around but he said he liked my pace.
It was too steep and too hot to talk. David hung on for about half the steeps, but somewhere before Delta Point, he fell off my wheel.
Climbing Devils was awful. The heat was unreal and I was overheating.
Descending riders were very courteous. Many of them were smiling, and offering words of encouragement. I was too deep in my suffering to even hear half of them. I hardly even recognized Meredith when she came by.
Most the riders were smiling, enjoying their hard-earned downhill. I wanted to yell at them: “It’s a death trap, stop smiling!”
Based on what I was going through, I knew a lot of people were going to get crushed.
Once the climb leveled out, I was still too hot to even think about taking a feed. Putting anything other than water into my stomach made me want to puke.
I figured if I could get through the next two miles of rolling trail, I’d cool off, and could possibly take a feed right before the rocks.
It was a small mistake, but it hurt me. I opened my pace up across the rolling middle section, but never took the feed before I got into the rocks like I should have.
I dieseled through the heinous rocks. I knew I had to be treading water, but the rocks are slow and plodding anyway, and I couldn’t really tell how much damage I was inflicting on myself.
As soon as I got out of the rocks couple miles later, I hit a nice smooth rolling climb to the high point.
I went to drill the climb.
There was nothing there.
Visions of another 30 miles of soft pedaling to Hope, getting passed by one rider after another, trying to latch on only to get dropped over and over again, played across a dark screen in my mind. My head felt like it weighed a million pounds and I struggled to hold it up.
Experience kicked in. I popped back half a pack of caffeinated shotbloks.
This is the hard part.
Fuel is on the way, but my body is screaming for more, though in reality, it can only process so much, and feeding the beast too much just makes a painful gut bomb.
Wait. Wait. Wait. Pedal on. There’s no gas. The trail goes by so slowly. All day I;ve been flying, now I’m just crawling.
Approaching the lake, my temperature is coming back down, and I can start to feel the fuel coming online.
Take another feed now!
The lines are re-primed.
Clickity-clickity-clickity. Kevin rolls up on my wheel.
I finish a waffle as he comes around and descends from the trail above Devils Lake, rolling along just in front of me.
It feels like 2014 all over again.
Not quite though.
I test the gas again.
A couple minutes later, I round the corner and head up the switchback above the Devils Junction. The last climb to the Res Pass is my salvation. The spectator crew shouts encouragement. I shout back: “I want three burgers!”
In 2014, Kevin disappeared over the horizon here.
Not this year.
I keep him in sight all the way through Res, closing the gap to within seconds before we finally tip over the edge.
I knew he’d put some time into me on the descent to East Creek, I limited damages to that point.
What I love about racing against Kevin, is that he’s one of the only racers I go up against in my cohort that kicks my ass on the descents. Neither he nor I are slouches on climbs, but we also aren’t pure lungs and legs either. I have to work to limit my losses on descents with him, and if I slack or get caught out on a climb, he’ll make me pay.
I was glad to see as I made it down to East Creek and began the short climb out, that Kevin was still in sight.
Trail knowledge kicked in. I knew I’d need another feed to get to the trestle, and the short grade out of East Creek is a nice and easy one. The ensuing straightaways between the creeks are fast and rooty. There’s a short climb out of “upper surprise creek” between East Creek and Fox Creek, but it’s steep and rocky, not a great spot to try and get a snack. I knew from here on out it was going to be all about drilling the long straight-aways and hitting the short climbs from the creeks hard.
I let Kevin slide away just a tad on East Creek, and then went back on the hunt.
I reeled him back in, along with the Beemuns relay team rider who had passed us earlier, right before Fox Creek.
The three of us grouped up and hammered together to about mile 4. Kevin had to jump off somewhere along the way for a second to pull a stick from his drive train, and I took one more feed just after crossing the Res Creek trestle, but otherwise we stayed together.
Kevin and I both knew we were deep in PR territory, and even though we were racing, we acknowledged that it was chasing each other that was pushing us and making this race so awesome.
It had felt like an incredible group ride nearly all day.
Finally, at the mile 2 SOB hill, Kevin got up the climb just a titch in front of me, and then bombed the descent putting a 20-30 second gap on me to the trailhead.
We worked hard down the road, neither of us relented, but I never could close the gap. Awesome. Just awesome!
The biggest change up this year for me, was the use of an electrolyte mix. My bike can’t effectively carry a water bottle, and I’m not comfortable riding soley on a mix carried in my bladder. I used a 50% dilute of Liquid I.V. in a 16oz bottle at each checkpoint.
Duh moment here: it really helped. My water retention was better, I never felt thirsty once on a hot day, and my power was strong and consistent all day. Last year I complained of needing some kind of “bonus” feed to level things out. This was it, for sure.
I carried 1.75 liters of water on the first leg, and 2 liters on legs 2 and 3. I basically killed my water on leg 1, and had maybe 1/4 a liter left on the latter two legs. I could have carried a bit less on leg 2 (I spilled a good bit due to a leaky valve and then losing my bite valve), but it is also one of the hottest and hardest legs, I had plans to attack, and I did not want dehydration to limit my power. I knew if I got into the meat of the climb and felt like I was carrying too much water I could dump or chug.
My feeds were the same as they were last year, and maybe the year before. I ate 100-150 cals every 45 minutes in the form of Cliff Shotbloks and Honey Stinger Waffles; a Kind energy bar (some type of fruity nutty flavor) at each checkpoint; and included a Cliff Mocha Shot for the final stretch of the third leg (NOS). I did not eat anything caffeinated until the final leg.
I carried way more food then I needed. I ate one waffle per leg, I’m pretty sure I ate one pack of shotblocks per leg, but it’s a little hazy.
Here’s one critical take away: I made sure to take feeds before starting any of the descents to prime the fuel lines, so to speak. Adam once said something to the extent of: Fuel your uphills by fueling on downhills. (Technically, I think he said that if you eat at the base of a climb to fuel your climb, you missed the boat).
I carried all my food onboard again, did a backpack swap out at each checkpoint, and thanks to Carly and crew, had seamless transitions.