Today was a tough day. I learned a lot of hard lessons as my whole body detonated less than halfway through the race, and I struggled to even finish as I slipped two places from fourth to sixth in the GC. I am now a full ten minutes behind 5th (Laura), and 7th (Kate) is just a minute back from me. I finished a very distant 7th today. I was happy just to cross the line...
I woke up this morning with my left medial hamstring tendon already cramping. Hmm. It's been giving me trouble since the Breck 100, just a nagging wee pain, but it's definitely not going away like I had hoped. I was sluggish to get moving, and could barely choke down breakfast. During the warmup my bowels were unhappy, and I stashed some toilet paper in my jersey hoping I wouldn't need it.
Mistake #1: I got to the start WAY too late... like 15 minutes before start time. And there was no way in. I tried the front, and the sides... no go. It was all the way to the back. Marlee and I rolled up at the same time, and we both got stuck. I told myself to be calm, it was a long day, but as the gun went off it was a full 30 seconds until we started moving. As we finally got rolling I could see the entire front of the race already rounding the first corner up the hill. I got a shot of adrenaline which sent me flying up the road, froggering my way through the pack with Marlee, as we made holes where there weren't any in order to get away from the congestion.
Well, this did not go as planned for me. As I mentioned, I do not start well. I do not start fast. I actually felt okay initially, but I'm sure the adrenaline was carrying me through. Marlee is wicked strong and got away in no time (she eventually finished 2nd by only three minutes), and I saw Laura up the road as well. Two men in front of me crashed into each other up the first steep loose climb, and I had to put a foot down and it was too steep to get going again. Dang me! I started running and finally was able to get back on the bike, but Laura was out of sight. I put my head down and started grinding.
The first major climb, Heinous Hill, didn't actually seem all that heinous. I rode it okay, I didn't feel the same strength as I did climbing yesterday, but it wasn't bad. I rolled through Aid 1 and grabbed fresh bottles. It wasn't until the first road section after Aid 1 that things started to shut down. First it was my legs. I looked down at my Garmin and noticed that I was only in zone 2 power. Uh oh. I felt like my legs were really working hard, and they weren't outputting much. My heart rate was low - only in the 150s. I felt okay there, but I couldn't seem to get my heart rate any higher because my legs just weren't working.
I tried to push a little harder, and then everything seized up. My legs basically gave up on life, and I had no choice but to soft pedal. As I turned onto the singletrack for the long and steep West Ridge climb, the one that nearly cracked me in the Breck 100, my lower back joined my legs in going on strike against me. Ugggghhhhh. I put my head down and tried to keep the pedals turning, but I knew I was losing time. I saw Kate coming up maybe a minute behind me.
I grunted up the climb the best that I could, and when I had maybe a half mile to go, Kate came roaring by me like I was going backwards (I basically was). She looked fresh and strong. I tried to keep up for a minute, until my legs reminded me I wasn't going anywhere. She was quickly out of sight and at that point I fully detonated. My stomach was revolting as well, and as much as I knew I needed fuel, I couldn't put down any more energy food.
I soft pedaled and sucked down an entire bottle of Skratch, and started the world-class Colorado Trail descent. During the Breck 100 I loved this section and rode it well. Today- not so much. My quads were cramping hard and I had to switch legs every minute or so. I got passed by countless men, and as I looked up around the final switchback I could see another woman coming. At that point, I didn't care.
On the next short but steep climb my legs cramped up again, and I found myself out alone in no man's land. I started to wonder if I had made a wrong turn. My mind started playing tricks on me at that point. Every little twinge in my body seemed to mock me, taunting me, telling me to quit: "What do you think you're doing out here? People who work fifty-odd hours a week at their day jobs shouldn't be trying to do six-day stage races, that's just stupid. What makes you think you can compete with these women? You worked so much over the last few weeks that you didn't even prepare- and now you're paying for it. Yep, we're going to make you pay. You're only on day two- you can't take four more days of this!"
Whooooa. It was interesting to listen to the voices in my head at this point. I actually felt somewhat detached from them. It is incredibly rare that I lose my shit mentally while racing. I can't even remember the last time. I let the voices have their way for a minute or so, then doing my best Jens Voigt impression, yelled out loud "SHUT UP LEGS!" I knew better. I came into Aid 2 knowing it would take everything I had to get through the final climb.
I stopped at Aid 2, got some lube on my chain and forced myself to eat some food and drink another bottle of Skratch. I started to feel a little better on the pavement. I tucked in behind some men that I caught on their way out and we flew down the road descent. As the road turned uphill once again, I finally had some power to put into the pedals. During the Breck 100 this climb on lap two seemed to go on forever. The steep sections still hurt- but I didn't feel as awful anymore. I kept a steady, consistent rhythm. My mind had gone completely blank and my body was finally cooperating - or at least it wasn't revolting. The last six miles actually went quickly, and the finish line was there before I knew it.
I was so happy to be done. I had lost a lot of time, and a few places, which is a bummer. But the way my body had acted today scared me a little. I'm not sure what it's capable of. I don't think it liked being completely fueled on energy chews. I spent the evening making some portables from The Feed Zone, my standard race fuel, in hopes that my body will respond a little better. We will see. Tomorrow's stage, the circumnavigation of Mt. Guyot, is rumored to be incredibly tough- lots of hike a bike, steep climbs, and gnarly descents. I may be out of the race for the podium at this point, but I am determined to cross the finish line on Friday regardless of how slowly I may have to go. I will get there if I have to crawl.
And who knows- it's bike racing. Anything can happen.