A 62 mile race on dirt roads with killer hills in April......What was I thinking?!?!?! Apparently I completely forgot how hard it was last year. I was a little more prepared than last year though since Coach Tim made me do hill repeats, but this didn't seem to make the race any easier!
It was a beautiful day, high of about 67 with partly cloudy skies. It was a little warmer than most of us have been adjusted to riding in. I had my two largest water bottles on my bike and knew it still wouldn't be enough. The Cat 4 women had enough registered to make two fields and my field started at 2:30! Even with two fields, I was sick to my stomach thinking about the start and wanted the race to break up as soon as possible. To make it even better, the announcer warned us about sandy sections on the dirt roads and assured us we would be fine if we used our "cross skills." Hmmmm, sand and smooth road tires.......no problem :/
The race started and all I could think about was getting near the safety of the front of the peloton by the time we reached the narrow, dark covered bridge. We went out at a fast, but still fairly comfortable pace. Girls were changing positions every where trying to move to the front. Seemed everyone had the same plan I did. By the time we got to the bridge, I was a little farther back than I would have preferred, but made it over the bridge safely and onto the first dirt stretch. The pace was picking up as we continued to scramble for position before the next break up point - the 19% grade Juniper Swamp Hill. Unfortunately, I am still not aggressive enough to hold my position and ended up at the back of the peloton by the time we got to Juniper. It is a grueling climb on dirt, probably the steepest on the course. I gained a couple positions, but not enough to stay with the leaders. They took off down the hill and I was left with about 8 other girls. The gap was small and we tried to get a paceline going to catch back on. This proved difficult to do as some of the girls either didn't know how to paceline, some just didn't seem to want to work, and I'm guessing others had teammates in the lead group so they were forbidden to work. It was so frustrating since I knew I couldn't catch them alone. At least I had people to ride with and block some wind for me though.
We continued onto a flat road section and wheels clattered in front of me. A girl flew into a ditch. Again I thought, "why am I doing this?" This was the first crash I had ever witnessed in a road race. I wondered what happened since it seemed to be a innocent area. My goal for the race quickly turned to survival and we had not even reached the sandy sections yet.
Somewhere between the two feed zones it sneaked up on us.....the dreaded sand resulting in complete carnage. Racers unable to handle the sand were going down every where. Forget about going in a straight line. Also, at this point, we were starting to pick up stragglers from other races which made for more bodies on the road. Somehow through each section, I managed to make it through the sand with the rubber side down. Although, I had a few close calls with other riders coming at me. I guess I have more skills from cross than I thought!
At mile 48, we reached the second feed zone and I was still with some of my group minus a few who dropped off. I only had about 4 oz of Gu Brew left. Thank goodness for one of my cross buds, Dave Beals, for agreeing to be in the feed zone and re-supplying me with more Brew. It was just at the right time since my calves were starting to cramp.
More sand and hills came after the feed zone and my group shattered apart. My last 10 miles were spent alone and again I thought about just surviving this race. I was exhausted and could no longer get out of the saddle to climb. Spinning in my easiest gear I climbed the last of multi-mile long hills. Finally, the home stretch.....I looked at my Garmin and it said 3:30 just before crossing the finish line. 20 minutes faster than last year and no incident. Then I remembered why I race. This race is epic.
I was most definitely "battered," but thankfully not "killed." See you again next year Battenkill!
P.S. As I got ready to leave for the day and I bumped into Marsha and heard about Kathleen's accident. My heart sank, but luckily was told in time she would be fine. Heal fast Kathleen!