We made the drive from Detroit area to the Middleville area Friday evening before the race. On the way to pick up my race packet (number plate, instructions, etc.) I detoured us on some of the roads the race would use, early the next morning. Remote and hilly! I drove what would be the last nine miles of the race - from the aid station at Hull & Goodwill Roads to Yankee Springs Road. Two of those last nine miles were on gravel and seven on paved roads - including one of the 2 bigger climbs of the race - and 5 miles of downhill to the finish. I started to get really excited.
The next morning I arrived as planned (before 9AM), and set about to put my bike together, get suited up, and ride a little warm-up - I notice while training that it takes about 20-30 min of spinning to clear the snot out, and get my cadence up to 90-100 RPM (without thinking). So, I set off to circle a back corner of the parking lot, and was soon joined by a bunch of more experienced looking folks doing the same (good call, I guess).
At this point, it's about 18 degrees. I'm wearing, starting from the toes:
- Ankle height socks
- Shoes, with neoprene toe covers
- Leg warmers
- Bib shorts
- Heart-rate monitor (calorie counter)
- Insulated base-layer (lycra outer)
- Save a Horse, Ride a Ton-Ton Jersey
- Cycling Windbreaker
- Marmot skull cap
- (2) 24 oz. bottles of room-temp Gatorade (refrig. temp Gatorade turned to slush in my last training ride)
- (2) GU Roctane Energy Gels (taped to top tube)
- (1) Spare tube
- (2) Tire levers
- (1) Folding allen wrench set
Then I made my way to the starting line, with a stop at the outhouse (good, it is possible to pee wearing bibs). I was a bit nervous. I'd never lined up for a race before, and there wasn't much in the instructions about doing so - I trusted it would be self-explanatory. Sure enough they held up signs on long sticks. First the 65 mile "elite" starting group. Then someone with a sign for the 35 miler's walked back until the last 65 miler, and the 35 milers formed up, then the 23 milers - piece of cake.
I first found myself in the first 1/3 of the 23 milers - everyone around me was on something made from carbon, wearing very serious clothing, and looking very fit and experienced. I slid back to the last 1/3 of that group, near a guy with a mohawk glued to his helmet, and 2 first timers from Windsor. This was my sort of crowd.
Then groups started rolling out. I should mention the cool timing (which is probably only cool to me, but, again this is my first race). We have number "plates" (thin cardboard) with a RFID tag on the back, and the start gate has a reader - as you roll through it "beeps" and the clock is started. So, we rolled through, and were away.
My goal was to finish with the median 23 milers. Last year that was a time around 1 hour, 45 minutes, or an average speed of about 13 mph. On level ground I'd need to do about 15-16 mph, and take every advantage my weight affords on the downhills, to average 13 mph overall. I've heard about beginners setting out too fast, and blowing up, but I knew my pace and my section of the field wasn't doing it.
So, I started passing people. Kept my eyes on my cadence and heart-rate and just kept going at the pace I'd trained at. I never wanted to look at my average speed, elapsed time, or distance - just wanted to know my cadence, current speed, and how many calories I was burning.
It was all pretty much a blur until the infamous Sager Road. At about 4.5 mile into the race we turned onto this mile of hilly, rocky 2-track. It's up and down the whole way, with a net elevation gain of about 100 feet. A lot of those fit guys on cyclocross bikes didn't have the gearing and/or tires for it, so I passed a lot of them. There were water bottles lying every couple hundred feet, and I pointed a broken chain out to one guy. There were crashes, and lots of passing back and forth. I would end up being passed in granny gears on the short climbs, and then re-pass on the descents. There was an older couple on a tandem that just went up the hills like a diesel...
Then we turned South for a couple of miles. I had in my head that all of the early climbing in the race happened after Sager road, so I was prepared for a dual-humped climb. After climbing for a while, I was getting hot. At the top of one hill, I took off my helmet to remove my cap underneath, then dropped it. Since I was stopped, I decided to take a little extra time to unzip my sleeves from my jacket. Well, I'd never done this before, and they got hung up. In the end, I ended up taking the jacket off, removing the sleeves, and putting it back on. Meanwhile, people are just riding by me. It seemed like an eternity. Probably 2-3 minutes. Then as I started riding again, I realized I had my gloves stuffed in my rear jacket pocket, tangled with my sleeves and hat. As I stressed and fidgeted, I realized that I had stopped at the top of the climb, not on the first hump... Oh well...
So, now I'm trucking along re-passing people while fishing for gloves. I finally got those on, and resumed my proper pace.I'm feeling really good at this point. I catch up with the guy with the mohawk on his helmet, and chat for a minute. He tells me he got it on Amazon.
The sun is out, it's warming up, I feel like I have the right amount of clothing, I'm keeping my pace and cadence up, and my first bottle of water is about gone, and my calorie count is at about 1200.
At this point I peel off a GU Roctane gel and eat it, and swap my water bottles.
Perfect! Now I'm heading North to 1/2 way point, followed by the aid station. At this point the guys on cyclocross bikes have recovered the time lost on Sager road and maybe the first climb, and forming small groups. One or 2 of these pass me, but this is nothing like what I'll see in a bit.
I've decided way before the aid station that I'm not going to try to grab an orange slice, or a cup of water. I've got 24 oz of Gatorade on board, and another energy gel if I need it. I cruise through, pretty much alone. I don't know if people stopped behind me, or if I finally reached my place in the pack where the people in front are faster, and those behind slower, but I'm trucking along alone on some lonely dirt roads, until...
Until, the first freight train roars past me. The aid station is where the 35 mile, and 65 mile "elite" course rejoins the shorter 23 mile course. I'm in the middle ring up front and the biggest gear in back (not my lowest, granny gear, but almost) trucking up a hill, and ZZZZHHHHHOOOOOMMM - a group of 8-12 elite riders just fly by me. Some out of the saddle, others head down in a draft. Just amazing. That keeps you going - not wanting to look totally lame, I sit a little straighter, kick the cadence up a little...
As I make the turn out onto Gun Lake Road (paved), another big group flies by. I take the long way around the corner to give them space, and then just marvel as they pull away from me. It's about a mile before the big climb I drove the night before. I feel really good, and just decide I'm going to take it easy up the hill - not slack off or anything, just keep it in whatever gear keeps my RPM high, and gets me over the top. I unzip the jacket and start climbing.
The descent is amazing. I'm in my biggest ring, and smallest cog doing about 30 mph. I catch and pass a couple of guys, and then realize they're on single speeds, and don't have my particular weight advantage. There's a little climb, followed by another descent, and I catch a draft from a guy in the 35 mile race for a minute. At this point I'm feeling really good, and, with the hill behind me, and some gas in the tank I'm wanting to keep blue number plates (23 milers) behind me - for the most part it's been 35 and 65 milers flying by. Each time a blue plate passes, I swear, and try to push a little more.
Then, the road flattens out, and it's about 2 miles to the finish. The hip muscles, and butt muscles are feeling tight and sore. My arms are tingling and I'm shaking them out every couple of minutes. I keep the pace up at 15-17 mph as I ride into the park and across the finish line.
ET: 1:53:53 (12.1 mph)
25th of 43 (men 30-39)
139th of 218 (all 23 milers)
I was a little shaky, and would quickly get and drink my last 1/2 gallon of Gatorade, but I felt great. As I turned around to watch the finish line, the people riding in behind me looked fit, experienced, and rode nicer bikes than mine.
Feels good. My son asked: "Did you win daddy?", to which I respond: "Yes!"
Even though I didn't meet my goal (median finish, 1:45:00), it was really pulled out of the air. In the end, I feel like I trained and prepared well. I had the right tires on the bike, at the right pressure. The bike was setup well (with the cold, I did have some trouble getting into the small ring on the front derailleur early on). The Brooks saddle was perfect! I had a good breakfast, and ate and drank the right amount at the right times in the race. Again, it was a great day, and a great race!