07 May 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cohutta 100

I signed up for my first NUE series race of the year way back in 2013 to make sure I got a spot at the Cohutta 100. Turns out, 3 of my Team Noah Foundation teammates got spots as well so we had a road trip on our hands! Trevor drove down from Iowa to STL on Thursday and we had an official team meeting donut-eating festival at Strange Donuts. Since most of us live in STL, we don't often get to hang out with T-ROCK so what better way to do that than while stuffing our faces with fried dough? I think everyone got at least 3. YUM.
We’re open! Dones til 10AM and then we’re outta here because this snow is for real!! / on Instagram http://ift.tt/1cAT3If
YumStrangeYumDonutsYum.
Then on Friday morning, Adam and Maria met me and Trevor at my place to pack up and roll out. It should be noted that Team Noah does not joke around when it comes to road trips - we loaded 4 people, 4 bikes, 2 tents, 1 cot-tent (or is it a tent-cot?), bags of assorted bike tools and gear, several clothing items made of spandex, and some food all into Trevor's beautiful black extended-cab pick-up and hit the road. We didn't make it to Race HQ at Ocoee Whitewater Center with enough time to pre-ride anything, but we did have time to meet the amazing race staff from Trailhead Outdoors, eat several breadsticks, pack drop bags, and gawk at Jeremiah Bishop before setting up camp at a nearby campground with D-Rapp and Ryan from Toasted Head Racing. Turns out, it didn't matter that we hadn't seen an inch of the course because Dan and Ryan gave us detailed descriptions (including diagrams!) of the tricky sections. And then the singlespeeders (Trevor, Dan, Adam) fretted about their gear choice while us smart ones (me, Maria, Ryan) slept soundly.

http://instagram.com/p/nO6krFq7Un/
Race morning, we woke up at 0500 to perfectly chilly Tennessee air, ate breakfast by headlamp, kitted up and drove back to Ocoee Whitewater Center for the race start at 0700. Everything went pretty well except my Garmin refused to cycle past the boot-up screen...TWICE! On the third time it finally decided to function and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I found a spot behind the NUE-trademark Kenda arch in the mid/back of the back, Maria joined me, we had a group prayer, and then GO!
Course profile with aid stations.
START to AS#1 (16.5mi, mostly singletrack)
Here's a fun fact about me: I am not good at starting races. Even with a warm-up, my legs just don't turn over like everyone else's seem to. Also, I have a big fear of being too slow in singletrack and holding people up. So especially on hundo starts, I like to casually ride off the line, slot myself somewhere in the mid-pack, and just do my own thing. It's not the best competitive strategy, for sure, but it keeps me calm and mostly crash-free. Today, it means riding Maria's wheel for the opening 3 miles of road and then into the singletrack. Most of our training rides are like this and it's good to establish a comfort zone before the long day ahead. I unfortunately don't make it through the tricky root section cleanly (had to stop for a crash ahead of me), but the ensuing scary creek crossing is not scary at all. I get ahead of Maria somehow and pop out at the first Aid Station exactly on-pace with my 10mph plan. Sweet!
Start line, Cohutta 2014.
http://mtbracenews.com/news/cohutta-100-results-2014-nue-national-ultra-endurance-series
AS#1 to top of Potato Patch (32mi, mostly gravel road)
After passing Aid Station #1, my main focus was eating. I didn't have any free moments to eat/drink in the singletrack (I'm only using bottles today, no CamelBak) so I'm already in a calorie hole, 1:45 into the race! Fortunately, we just have gravel roads for the next 30ish miles so it's easy to eat and drink. I chow down a ProBar, guzzle a bottle of water, and then take stock of my physical state. I am feeling pretty good, actually surprisingly good after how I've been feeling in training for the past 6 weeks (more on that in a blog post later). I don't see anyone around me and I want to change that. So I start riding a little harder. And I start catching people. Other riders are catching me too, that's for certain, but for the most part I'm moving comparatively faster than I was in the singletrack. I think it's just after Aid Station #2 that I spot a gold mine: a pink jersey just a hundred meters ahead. And ahead of it, is a purple jersey. Now I know this is stereotypical of me, but I'm just assuming that these pink and purple jerseys belong to girl riders and therefore it's time to CHASE THEM DOWN! So I burn a few matches to catch pink girl (in a Hammer kit), and I invite her to hop on my wheel as we chase down purple girl. Turns out there is ANOTHER girl up there too so now we are a pack of 4 women tackling the backside of Potato Patch all together. There are 3-4 guys floating around us too, and everyone seems super stoked to work and chat together. I'm fine with this too but also eager to see where we all shake out in the end.

I've been struggling with some low back soreness in recent training, and, while I'd hoped otherwise, today is no different. Even before Aid Station #1 my low back was barking. Now, more than 30 miles into the day, it's definitely unhappy. I try to solve this by locking out my fork, adding a few gears, and standing on a lot of the stair-steppy uphills. It helps a little, but I'm also scared that my legs will pay the price later for the harder effort. My only consolation is my singlespeed teammates, who do this ALL THE TIME, so I just tell my self to HTFU and ride like Peat, Dwayne, Trevor, and Adam. It can be done! Plus, using a taller gear on the climbs makes me faster, which means my race will be over sooner (as long as I don't explode)!

As we near the 45 mile mark, I start to get anxious for the Potato Patch descent. Each little declination in the road has me asking, "Is this it? Is this the start of going down Potato Patch?" Only pink Hammer girl and one other guy are left from our earlier pack of 8, and we are all eager to stop climbing. There is one sort of fast down hill that swoops by an awesome overlook, and I make a mental note to check that out on the way back. I must have been thinking really hard because I almost miss the left-hand turn that marks the official start of the real Potato Patch descent. I see the paint markings at the last minute, skid to a near stop and just barely bring the SegSlayer around in time. Pink Hammer girl bunches up closely behind me and the two of us let loose down the side of the mountain.

down Potato Patch, AS#4, Pinhoti loop, AS#5, up Potato Patch (16mi total w 4mi singletrack)
Not long after we begin the descent, we see the lead riders climbing back up and they look like they're hurting (well, everyone except for Mr. Bishop, he's flying). I see Trevor and give him a whoop as I fly past. And the road keeps pointing downward! Even after a quick stop at Aid Station #4, we KEEP DESCENDING. I am trying to eat a turkey sammy I picked up at the Aid Station and also maintain control of my bike - I probably looks ridiculous to the riders coming the opposite way. Then, just short of what feels like the Gulf of Mexico, we take a ralphie onto the revered Pinhoti Trail. The section we get to ride is AWESOME. My back is really hurting, but I can't stop smiling as the singletrack weaves through the Georgia pines. We have a short little climby section and then a long, flowy, fast descent to Conasauga Rd. When I pop out onto the gravel, I'm pretty spent. Sure, the trail was amaz0rs fun, but my back has had enough of playing rear suspension for the day. And, pink Hammer girl has caught and decisively passed me. I'm feeling pretty low, and there are still 45 more miles to ride, plus a huge climb!

When things are going badly for me, the first thing I do is eat. Today is no different. I dig out some snacks from my bento and get to work emptying my bottles. The second thing I do is start thinking about why I'm here. I think about Noah, whose 3rd birthday would have been yesterday, and Dwayne, who stayed in St. Louis to support his family instead of racing Cohutta today. I "conjure up a sense of gratitude" (my favorite saying from my yoga teacher) that I get to ride my bike through beautiful terrain in perfect weather, in relatively good health. These things do not suck. I can make it. And around the next bend, I catch a glimpse of pink Hammer girl's kit. She's still well ahead of me, but these curvy gravel roads have a way of distorting time; a small 60-second gap can seem like ages if the lead rider is out of sight. So I remind myself to keep chasing.

I continue mashing up to the bracelet station, where race volunteers give us a stretchy purple bracelet to prove we've done the whole Pinhoti loop. Then we keep climbing up to Aid Station #5, where I stop, completely get off my bike, and load up on calories. Another turkey sandwich and new bottle of CR333 from my drop bag. A PB&J sandwich, PB M&Ms, and Oreos from the Aid Station. I stand there, idly munching away, when the Aid Station volunteer gives me a funny look. This snaps me back into race mode and I exclaim "I'd better get out of here before I eat too much!" He laughs, agrees, and wishes me good luck.
http://instagram.com/p/nRYbrBNf3o/
 The climb back up Potato Patch is HOT. And steep. And buggy. But, my legs are still willing to turn my 39x36. I know cross-chaining is horrible but I've got a mental goal now to keep the SegSlayer in the big ring for the rest of the race, mostly in honor of Peat who is always telling me and Maria to pretend the granny gear doesn't exist. And that goal propels me up the slopes of Potato Patch with a lot of effort, but not that much suffering. Don't get me wrong, this is a long, tough climb, but for some reason it's not miserable like I thought it would be. Maybe that's because I am softly singing "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain When She Comes" to myself. And eventually I make it to the top, turn right, pass the pretty overlook, make another right turn, and then, boom! Worst part of the course is over!

top of Potato Patch to AS#7 (23.5mi gravel)
Just because we're done with Potato Patch, doesn't mean that the climbing is over. There are still lots of little roller ups, they are just connected with more descending than climbing. On one of these bumps, I see a familiar kit up ahead. What the what? No, it's not pink Hammer girl, but instead it appears to be my teammate Adam, crushing the course on his rigid Kona Unit SS. It takes me a roller or two to catch him, but when I do, he's struggling with cramps and stomach issues. I offer just about everything in my over-stuffed bento (I ate so much at AS#5 that I haven't really touched my food since then), but nothing sounds good to Adam's unhappy tummy. I tell him about my big ring plan and he encourages me to keep crushing it! So I ride on, stopping briefly at Aid Station #6 for more calories (don't really need these) and water (really need this, it's hot!). The volunteers tell me that pink Hammer girl is about 5min up the road, and just as I leave, Adam rolls in, having dug deep and found a second wind. We high-five and I take off in pursuit!
not a lot of pictures, so you get to look at Strava!
http://www.strava.com/activities/134722724
This section of the course (miles 74-88) is REALLY fun. The descents are long and curvy, and it is a great chance to work on descending. I try to find the little pocket of dirt on the inside corner of each gravel turn, giving my tires maximum opportunity to carry speed through the turn without me braking too much (something I am working on). It's important to get in a rhythm to really fly down these hills. I am alternating between chasing hard ("you totally got this! you're gonna catch pink Hammer girl! keep riding strong!") and then, weirdly, lolly-gagging in a few spots (1 walk break and 1 pee break that had no urgency to them whatsoever). I try not to dwell on my bi-polar riding and am really happy to see Aid Station #8 come into view. One last visit to my drop bag yields some delicious cookies, and encouragement from the awesome Trailhead Outdoors volunteers.

AS#7 to FINISH! (8.5mi gravel, 8mi singletrack)
The guys at Aid Station #7 encourage me to go catch pink Hammer girl. I am extremely well-fueled at this point, and I know that I've got to catch her before the singletrack starts in 8-ish miles, so I continue chasing on the gravel roads. There are several long hairpin turns where we can see the trail ahead/behind us, but there are no riders to be found, and especially no pink kits. My heart starts to accept that I am running out of real estate. I keep my big ring promise to Peat and do my best to maintain good energy as the miles tick off. As we're approaching the top of a climb at mile 96, I see two things that greatly improve my spirits: the final Aid Station tent and a girl rider!

Alas, this girl is in a black/green kit, but it still feels really good to move up a spot this late in the game. She has stopped at the Aid Station and I make a snap decision not to stop at all, and instead use every scrap of advantage I can for the remaining singletrack. I swoop into the Chestnut trail system behind another rider and try to keep his wheel in my sights. The trail is probably really fun on fresh legs, arms, and back, but in my current state I'm just being pummeled by the roots and rocks. And the fun continues as we merge onto the Thunder Rock Express trail! Despite the "Express" in the name, the trail has several parts that are decidedly NOT DOWNHILL. I am not pleased, and neither are my hands or back. I know I can ride better and softer than this, and I remind myself of that out loud, "STAY ON THE TRAIL EMILY! KEEP IT TOGETHER!" I might have said this more than once. My line choice improves only slightly but the miles keep creeping by. I have no idea how many are left before the finish, and every slight uphill in the trail means a huge effort. I just want it all to be over without black/green girl catching me!



Finally, FINALLY, the trail dumps out into the Thunder Rock campground where we slept last night, and I know it's a short one-ish mile ride to the finish line at OWWC. Relief! My legs are thrilled to be back on pavement and offer up a respectable pace. As I'm turning onto the OWWC bridge, I spot Trevor walking back to the truck with his prizes so I know I'm 0-for-2 in NUE podium ceremonies, but at least I'm 2-for-2 in NUE finishes! My final time is 10h38m for the 103-ish mile course, with about 16,000 feet of climbing.

POST-RACE
Trailhead Outdoors doesn't make a big fancy production out of the Cohutta 100, but they do take EXCELLENT care of their racers. At the finish line, there is water, cold pop, finisher's mugs, and delicious sweet potato fries and wraps from Ocoee Dam Deli. And did I mention the ENGRAVED STEM and t-shirt we got at packet pick-up? Super nice! I snag some food and pink Hammer girl is right there too! Her name is Simona and we chat for a long time about the race - she finished 4 minutes in front of me. She is super nice and I'm looking forward to a rematch at Mohican in May!

I eat my food while soaking my tired legs in the Ocoee River. It's the perfect temperature! I also get to meet two riders from Columbia (as in South America) who are visiting the States just for this race! Cool! I cheer for Adam and Maria as they finish, and then we pack up Trevor's truck for the overnight return drive to St. Louis. It's a tough slog back to Missouri, not helped in the least by a sliced rear tire and a subsequent 2hr tire change, but we got some help from an endearing Illinois resident named Booger. Not joking, he was awesome. We finally make it back to The Lou just after sunrise and I collapse in an exhausted heap!
Women's podium!
Photo stolen from Jen's fb page :)
So there's my race! I ended up 8th chick, and pink Hammer girl (Simona) was 7th. Despite not catching her, I was very pleased with my race. That's a lot of climbing for a flatlander, and I felt I handled it well. I raced very true to my style, which is staying steady and strong all day. Congrats to Brenda Simril for taking the overall women's title, and for my adventure racing virtual-buddy Jen Moos for taking 3rd! That's it from Team Noah Foundation! We'll be comin atcha next from Ohio at the end of May, at the Mohican 100! See ya there!

WANT MORE?
OA 1st place Jeremiah Bishop: http://shoairblog.com/2014/04/28/update-jeremiah-bishop-making-a-return-to-big-racing/
SS 4th place Gerry Pflug: http://pfunwithpflug.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-cohutta-100-2014.html
SS 5th place Trevor Rockwell: http://ridinglifeschallenges.blogspot.com/2014/04/nue-2-cohutta-100-long-travels-and-long.html
SS 18th place Adam Clarke: http://adamclarkeadventure.blogspot.com/2014/04/2014-cohutta-100-vs-team-noah-foundation.html
W 2nd place Paige http://shovelsandspokes.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/paiges-cohutta-100-report/
W 6th place Danielle Musto http://daniellemusto.blogspot.com/2014/04/cohutta-100.html
Official pics: http://www.bluemelon.com/melvis/
my Strava link: http://www.strava.com/activities/134722724

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