Taming the Monster
Last week was rough. My poor baby girl had 5 shots at her 6-month check-up and spent most of the week with a high fever. This wore her poor momma out, caused several sleepless nights (for everyone), and a couple of missed gym appointments. It was also the week that Alastair began his science experiment: a 6-week power-building program on the bike trainer. The last night of that was ruthless.
But Friday came, and with it, Katelyn's parents. Catherine's fever broke in time for the ladies to make it to the gym, I rode my bike to work, and the forecast for the weekend looked magnificent. I even left work early in the precursor to the perfect weather to get in a nice ride home.
I worked that ride a bit softer than usual on the first half, knowing I had a 50-mile race on Sunday, and not wanting to go into it dead tired. Plus I'd had some issues over the previous week or so with my knees not wanting to cooperate. But as the ride wore on, the speeds increased, and the knee held out. Yay!
With that in mind, I set about planning to do a simple 20-mile easy ride Saturday morning just to keep loose for Sunday. But I am an idiot. With my in-laws in town, I didn't feel quite so bad about taking a little longer for my ride, so I casually rode down to the local Saturday morning group ride...and then spent another 16 miles crushing out ~21mph, including a couple of pulls at way too high output. But it was fun. I had a teammate out there with me and we were just having a great time playing in traffic.
So my plan for a keep-loose ride went up in smoke. I ended up putting down 40 miles the day after doing 45, and knowing I had to get up the next day and do 50 in a race. Stupid (but fun).
I put Alastair in the car and we headed out to pick up our race packets, and everyone else headed to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. When we met up with them, Catherine was all smiles, Fiona was energetic and beautiful and my whole heart was full. I LOVE my family.
Later we got to enjoy watching Catherine take her first bites of solid food. She loved it, but clearly wanted something a bit more adventurous than rice cereal.
Sunday morning, race day...
Alastair and I got up at 6, made sure everything was packed, and headed down to Pocahontas State Park for MonsterCross. I signed up last year and gave up halfway through, but this year I was gonna do (or try to do) the whole 50-mile shebang. Alastair was nervously signed up for the 25-mile Mini Monster. We had done the whole packet pickup thing on Saturday, but word was out that there would be separate timing-chip pickup at the event, which was weird, and meant there likely wouldn't be much warm-up.
We got to the park and had everything unloaded into the tent by 9:05, checked equipment, hung out, and rejoiced in our tent's proximity to the starting line. I set out spare water bottles so that I could toss empties after the first lap and grab new ones before rolling off for lap 2. We were set.
And just like last year, the event started late. It's tough to corral and organize 600 riders, and the pro/elite guys got a 2-minute head start, but like Tom Petty said, "the waiting is the hardest part". Once we started, it was just like last year: 2 or 3 miles of just trying to keep moving forward in a sea of slow-moving cyclists. This thing was PACKED.
Once it started to (s)pace out, the speeds went up and up and up. My pre-rides told me where I could fly and where I needed to reserve, what parts were rooty and what tire pressure would likely get me through without flatting. And there was flatting a-plenty. Rider after rider by the side, the first group of whom included one of my pro/elite teammates.
There's a trail segment at Poco that's called "I eat water bottles and skinny tires for breakfast" on Strava. Last year that segment rotated my handlebars downward. A week ago it curled my rear shifter in. This time I was ready for it, though even if I hadn't been, the pile of lost water bottles would have called it out quite obviously as a hazard. Literally, there were at least 20 bottles scattered around this section of roots.
I dodged to the left as another guy started down the middle, recognized the danger too late, and jerked over into my lane. I saw his move just in time to back out, but it cost me some positions.
The whole rest of the first lap on the bottom half of the park was spent at 100% output. Pacing with a group of fast CX riders the whole time, we were MOVING. I stayed with them into the top half of the park for a few miles, then realized I still had to go another whole 25 miles after the first lap, and backed way off...and they did too. It was kinda weird. I finally forced myself to get dropped and picked up another group, but by that time I was exhausted enough to start having trouble steering. I wasn't even a whole lap in, and already I was in trouble.
The last two miles of the Monstercross course are the only technical miles out there. They're really not even all that technical, but they do require a lot of quick uphill punches and darting around corners. I had the uphills, but the darting was beyond my tired arms. I think I nearly wrecked a couple of guys behind me by over-slowing, but I just couldn't get the rhythm.
I ended up cranking out that first lap in 1:30, and I know it could have been a minute faster if I hadn't balked at the turns.
When I came through start-finish, I made my way to the team tent and grabbed a fresh water bottle. But only one, and it was a huge mistake.
The 30 seconds I spent at the tent brought a bunch of familiar jerseys back to me, and we proceeded on for the first 5 miles or so of lap 2 before I actively got off the gas. At 1 hour 45 minutes, I'd eaten nothing and was starting to feel the bonk coming. The pace we were setting was too much to manage eating, so I got out of line, found some nice open space to ride alone, and ate most of my snacks...and drank most of my water.
At 33 miles, my back started to seize. Coming off the 2nd gravel climb from the dam, I was in trouble: riding the granny gear and feeling a fire raging up my back, with little water remaining. I'd never been happier to see pavement.
Rider after rider passed, and I knew my only game plan was just to try to finish. 35 miles. 35.5. 36. Diving back onto fire-roads and double-track, the climbs were ruining me, but I took solace in seeing that everyone else was suffering in silence, too. And then we were at 40 miles. I started doing the head-math on how much longer I had to be on a bike. I would have just stopped at the swimming pool, but I didn't want the results to say "Adrian Amos...DNF" like they did last year.
41 miles. Approaching the back side of the swimming pool complex, I did something I hadn't done in 5 miles: I passed someone. I felt a surge of energy and jumped on it...just to come up on a sea of emergency vehicles and stopped riders.
I still don't know the exact details, but someone was airlifted off the course, and everyone but the absolute top 10 or so riders were stopped. Some were told the race was over and left. By the time I got to the group, the wait was mostly over. I had, in effect, negated all the gains they'd made on me in the previous 10 miles. Oh snap son.
Except I had almost no water, my legs were starting to shake, and there were still another 8.5 miles to go, with some tricky climbs and those dreaded dead-arm turns. As everyone else started off, I spotted my savior: Alex Guzman, not racing, cheering me on. I stopped and asked him to run up and grab me a water bottle, and he did. It was the best 4 minutes I've ever waited on anything. I didn't give a half a happy horse-crap how many people rode past me: I was not going to die of dehydration.
And as a side-benefit of the time I spent waiting, I got to see Alastair come across the bridge to finish his race!
With fresh water in hand, I set off with no goal other than to finish. Counting down the half-miles, head-mathing the total time & time remaining, pissed off at my over-exertion on the first lap, and granny-gearing every climb, even the gentle ones.
Amazingly I never had to step off the bike, even for the climbs that I'd struggled to granny-gear on the first lap. I kept finding *just enough* reserves to handle them, and the only time I had to put a foot down was coming through the last water-crossing, where 600 riders had turned the exit into a thick bog.
But once I'd cleared that, I knew I was gonna make it. I bombed down the last couple of downhills faster than the prior lap, actually caught and passed a few riders climbing the paved ramp, and crossed the line at 3:19 and change.
Alastair finished his race in just a tick over 2:30, though final results have not yet been released pending a lengthy protest period.
Coming back to reality, we met the ladies at the park and I got to watch my beautiful children enjoy a summery February afternoon.
And this morning, for the first time ever, Little Miss Fiona pooped on the potty!
An amazing weekend, all around.