Thursday, August 1, 2013

Return to PA and Looking for Redemption

I had a bad race at the Wilderness 101 last year due to illness. I woke up not feeling well and never really got over it. I was looking for some redemption on my return trip this season.

Joe and I rode up to Coburn and arrived in plenty of time for a nice pre-ride to spin the tight legs and generally stretch out. Arriving early also meant we had our choice of camping spots. Having a hammock this is always a concern since there are only but so many trees available. We luckily ended up in the same exact spot as last year with a good view of the entire park, not too far away from the port-o-potties in case you had to go in the middle of the night, but far enough away to avoid the stench. The night was uneventful with an early bedtime as usual. The park was fairly quiet which is always nice. 

Before long, Chris was ringing the gong signifying it was time to wake up. The normal routine of trying to get down as much breakfast as possible and checking to make sure everything on your bike is perfect was underway. Soon, we were toeing the line and waiting for the rolling start. I couldn’t help but appreciate the calm of this start, exactly the opposite of the XC races that have composed most of my schedule so far this season.

The first climb is always a big sort out and this year was no different. The climb is on some nice, wide fire roads and lasts about 20 minutes. I got dropped from the lead group but was able to catch back on with the help of the small chase group on the fast decent that followed. The first 50 miles of this course is mainly gravel with some climbs, mostly on the shorter side. I got into a good group and we seemed to be making quick work of the fire roads. I found myself feeling great after the first 50 miles as the course suited me with mainly big ring climbing.

The second 50 is where the race really starts. I dropped at mile 40 last year so the rest of the course was all new to me. I completed much of the final 50 miles solo which made it just a touch more difficult. The tough climb out of Aid 3 was just too much and the small group I had been riding with split up. The second half of the course contained the vast majority of the singletrack. The rocks of PA start to show their teeth a bit with the accumulation of singletrack descents really starting to hurt. The rocky singletrack featured in this race is really nice, State College is lucky to have such awesome trails. I was glad to be rolling on my Industry Nine wheels, the 96 points of engagement really help to get through technical rock gardens. The final descent, known as Panther Run, at around mile 95 is brutal. My Scott Spark performed very well through these rocky descents by my hands were still killing me by this point in the race and it was hard to squeeze the brakes. After this descent comes the “Fisherman’s Path”, which is really more of a hiking path through a small boulder field. I was ready to get back on the bike and really push it to the finish after this hike-a-bike. 

Overall I’m pretty happy with my results. After a disappointment last weekend, I’m glad to have finally pulled it together. With the focus of my season thus far being on shorter, XC races, I wasn’t sure how my body would react to an effort lasting 8+ hours. A huge thanks to Michael Harlow and Endorphin Fitness for providing the plan that helped me during this race. I’m very glad I went back to seek some redemption on this course. 

It was a good time with great friends Joe, Jeff, and Tom. The entire team finished within the top 50, pretty impressive considering this was Tom’s first 100 miler. Joe had some mechanical issues but still managed to finish 16th, I was 23rd, and Jeff posted a huge improvement over last year with his 24th place finish. Tom just made the top 50 with a 48th place. Great job guys, now keep it up as the SM is only a few short weeks away.

Link to a cool video from DirtwireTV:

Photos courtesy of Bob Popovich and Jeff Plassman.