Chasing sunshine at the Growler

Epic is overused, for sure, but I can't think of a better term to describe the Full Growler this year. We started under heavy skies, misting rain and with a course change due to mud. The clouds closed down for the first lap, with fog enveloping the highest point of the course. There was hero dirt, Hartman's pavement and peanut butter mud followed by slimy rocks. And then the sun came out, hardening the tacky mud and drying the slippery rocks. It never got warm, as rain threatened the entire day. There was fast racing, hard riding and a true battle with the demons as only 204 hardy souls finished their two laps around Hartman's Rocks. I met my time goal, but didn't move any higher in the women's field - taking 5th this year. Amanda Carey and Janae Pritchett had a close race, with Amanda taking the win in 6:15:39 to Janae's 6:18:09. Marlee Dixon rounded out the top three finish at 6:36:59.



After perfect conditions for Nick's race on Saturday, I was looking forward to the Full Growler. It was going to be a great day on the bike - cool at the start but with awesome riding. Or so I though. Then the rain began. At 8:00 pm on Saturday, a gentle drizzle at first - but one that gradually developed into a full downpour. And didn't go away. I went to sleep with the sound of rain on the van and woke up a few times to the drum of raindrops. When my alarm finally went off, the rain had stopped - but it was just a short respite. The drizzle would resume while I was eating my breakfast. Picking clothes was the hardest choice of the morning - bank on the sun coming out or count on more rain. It was impossible to tell from the sky - dark clouds covered the horizon in all directions. I split the difference, with wool socks  and booties over my shoes, knee warmers, wool long sleeved shirt, vest and gore jacket. I also opted to wear over gloves to protect my hands from spray on the road start and clear glasses so I could see the rocks clearly. I was chilly but confident with my clothing choices. I've ridden in this kind of weather before - all as prep for races just like this. 

It was a dark and stormy morning.... Actually it was!
Nick dropped me off at the start, planning on playing race Sherpa for me. We had a good plan and I knew he'd be there for me. But as I wandered into dazed looking herd of cyclists waiting to start, I could hear Dave W on the microphone. The course was changed - we weren't doing the start loop, just charging right onto Tailpipe at the top of Kill Hill. Yikes! I panicked - I only had one water bottle and was planning on getting my camelbak from Nick in the same place I gave him his. Only we weren't going past that location anymore... Luckily, I saw Amber and was able to call Nick and tell him. I really wanted to just get my camelbak then, especially when Dave started telling us to not send support crews up into the rocks. I had Amber call him back, but no luck. He wasn't coming back to town. (He told me later that he'd already heard from another person that the start was changed and wasn't too worried about getting up there. He also though it was me calling the second time, and got a little snappy with Amber. Two race spouses, both having to deal with stressed and cranky athletes. They have the hardest job.)

Looking down into the valley from the top of Hartman's rocks - look closely for the lights of the lead vehicle!
And then it was time. With rain still coming down, the shotgun released the field. Unlike last year, this was no mellow rollout along 50. The pace was high and the tempo frantic - everyone was edgy and wanting to be in the top group. Tires splattered water on everyone's faces and hands, making it hard to draft. I was happy for both over gloves and gore jacket. I tried to stick close to Amanda Carey, knowing she would be the wheel to follow. Like everyone else, I wanted to be close to the front when we made that right onto Tailpipe. But as the field streched out along Gold Basin Road, I found myself drifting further and further back. I was spinning away, but getting swallowed by the herd - nowhere near the front where I wanted to be. As I climbed Kill Hill, I was already in a negative mind, convinced the race was over and I would get caught in horrible bottle necking. 

Nick was waiting for me at the top. I stripped off my over gloves and gore jacket. Off the wet road and I didn't need either. He gave me my camelback and off I went, still frustrated by my horrible start. But that's part of racing - there's both fitness and technical aspects. I will admit to getting very agitated on Tailpipe and Top of the World - after all, it was just a rock! Why couldn't people ride it?! I know I wasn't the only one - listened to one guy just chastising the riders in front of us for bobbling the rocks, but I was the only one who also had to deal with the ponytail factor. Just cause you're a guy and you can't ride basic technical stuff, don't get in my way and then get irate because I don't stop and let you around when you're just gonna get off at the next rock you can't ride. And that's all I will say about that.... As Nick says, there really is only one answer - ride faster from the start. I burned a few too many matches getting away from people, but was rewarded when the trail opened up.

And about the trails. Yes, most of Hartman's handled the rain well. It was generally tacky and fast, despite the softness of the ground. But where it doesn't handle the rain? Peanut butter. We'd be riding along and turn a corner only to encounter deep slope where if you stopped forward momentum, you were finished. The rocks were getting slippery and I missed a few obstacle because of the wet conditions. I wasn't the only one. Plenty of foot prints indicated others were walking as well. But overall, the first half of the course thru to Skull Pass was good. I was muddy, having fun and riding well. I didn't know where I was in the women's field, but was just focused on my own race at that point. It was all I could do - stay within myself, keep the tempo hard but sustainable. My goal heading into the weekend was to race the entire time, unlike last year, where I just rode the first lap and then survived the second lap.

The hike up Skull Pass wasn't too bad - the first time. The volunteers from Griggs Orthopeadic were beyond enthusiastic, but I didn't take them up on the offers of coke, bacon and other goodies. I was confident that Nick would be at the Four Way - right where I was the day before. Ripping thru OutBack - taking the big lines sometimes, just because I could, giggling the entire time. Then the long, straight climb up NineO into the fog and mist. I was happy with my clothes choices as the clouds closed in. My camelbak was getting low, but I was still sure of where Nick would be. Until I got there... And no Nick. No van... Huh. Oh well, maybe he was just taking a little more time because of the road conditions. But couldn't dwell on the implications of that thought. Bambi's was approaching and it was the only section of trail I would be riding blind. I needed to be fully aware, in the moment on the bike. More serious giggling ensued as I bounced down the rocks and jumped the berms on the descent to the pavement... A little skid onto Gold Basin Road and the climb-hike a bike up Power-line awaited. And there in the parking lot - the van! Nick was higher up the hill, waiting for me with fresh supplies. Dark glasses, rain jacket in my pocket. Odd that he would have driven all the way around to that point instead of just going to the Four Way. But I was happy to see him - his comment about getting stuck wouldn't register until later. A quick transition with a full camelbak, half a bottle of coke and some food and I was off and pushing my bike up the hill. Yeah - I wasn't even going to try to ride up that climb. It was ugly, steep and slimy. But the worst was yet to come.

Peanut butter is a nice way to describe the next chunk of road. It was clay - thick, clingy clay that caked to everything it touched. Somehow, I managed to find a ridable line and slowly plugged away. I'm not sure that was the smartest choice - carrying my bike and hiking might have been faster. But my pride always get in the way and I want to ride as much as I can. I survived the mud but added about 30 pounds to my bike! 

Final descent on JoshO's, hidden among the trees
Only a few more sections of single track. The sun was coming out and the trails were drying out. Skyline was fun and I was looking forward to Josh-Os. With the fast trails, I was having a blast. My camber was ripping the berms and I was launching the whoops. Yay! I did swallow my pride and walked up one section of Josh-Os - first lap and needed to be smart despite the fact that I could ride it. And then Rattlesnake. Last year, I hated that trail when we rode it north bound. This year? I was looking forward to riding everything. There was one spot where a rock bridge had been moved and I nearly stuffed my front wheel. A sudden lack of momentum, and I quickly got my weight back and pulled the front tire up. Crisis averted! Remember that for next lap and take the smaller line....  Finished out the lap on the very familiar Becks and Notch. I actually jumped the whoop into the road for the first time ever - much to the delight of the volunteers there. After 50+ trips down Becks, I'm not sure why I waited so long...

Lost among the rocks of Rattlesnake. Used to hate that trail. Now?
I rolled through the base area with a glance at the clock. 3:25... It would be close to get my time goal. Lots of riders were changing clothes, getting ready for a lap in the sun. I didn't see Nick, but figured he would be around. Most likely top of the hill so I wouldn't have to carry stuff up the hill. And I was right - Nick, Matt and Lonna were waiting at the parking lot entrance to Tailpipe. I pulled over and parked the bike. I wanted to put a short sleeved jersey on and Nick wanted to clean my bike. He cleaned my chain while Matt cleaned off some of the mud from the stanchions. I stripped off my long sleeved shirt and vest and pulled on the short sleeved jersey, stuffing the rain jacket back in my pocket. I also wasn't eating enough and knew that I needed more. Half a snickers bar, fresh camelbak and another bottle of coke and I was back on the bike. A lot done in a short period of time - something that will be important at the next adventure!

Top of Jacks, ready for a pit stop with my awesome NASCAR trained crew
Taking the clue from some of the guys I'd followed on the first lap, I took my second lap trail by trail. Not looking too far ahead, focusing on the moment and the rocks around me. It kept me riding hard and not sliding into survival mode as the minutes ticked into hours. It also kept me aware of eating and drinking more, which was good. Tailpipe was much more fun without the bottlenecking and I also had a clean run at Ridge - riding everything but one obstacle. Not without trying - I came up to the one section I wasn't sure about and gave it a shot. I'm sure I lost some time with that, but pride was on the line. Up and over the Top of the world - the rocks were drying out and the trail getting fast. Everywhere there had been peanut butter mud before was now firm, smooth track. I kept pushing, keeping focused on the present. That was my goal for the second lap - ride hard the entire time. Up onto Gateway and to my surprise, I saw Nick at one of the rock gardens. Luckily, I had no issues and made it through cleanly - otherwise, I'm sure heckling would have ensued. I was concentrating too hard on the next section to pay attention to him asking if I needed anything - besides, I felt comfortable with the amount of fluids I had. And he would be around - he'd meet me at one of the trail crossing coming up for sure.

Keep it moving, focus on the rocks and pick the smart lines!

Up an over and looking for the next obstacle
So I kept riding. I wasn't catching up with anyone, but I wasn't being passed. That meant I was holding my own, keeping a steady pace. I finished the coke and had another rice bar - really needed to stay on top of eating. At each trail crossing, I kept looking around for Nick. No sign of him yet. The rocks were getting bigger as I got tireder, but I was still summoning the power to get up and over. Another trail crossing - where I was sure Nick would be. Nope, not there. Oh well. Still doing good. Each section of singletrack brought me closer to the end, but I could tell it was going to be close on time. I needed to ride harder if I could. I was nearing the end of Enchanted Forest and was actually starting to get worried. I was finished with the bottle on my bike and close to finishing what I had in my camelbak. And I hadn't seen Nick yet. Around and up Skull Pass. This time I stopped and had them fill up my water bottle and slammed a mini bottle of coke. They were very efficient and I was rolling again in no time. I didn't have much left to ride, but I was also running out of time. Still taking the big lines on OutBack (which got a guy following me a little closely in trouble...) I was very happy that I was still able to ride hard - unlike last year. I finished my camelbak on the climb up NineO. A couple of silly errors on Back In, but overall, still riding smoothly.

A fast and fun downhill among the sage
Finally - at the Four Way. Nick was there, holding a bottle for me. I shook my head and yelled for a new camelbak. Call me weird, but I just prefer using that then having to reach for bottles. Ditched the bottle, got the new camelbak and some more food. Then off again. Having ridden Bambi's once already, I felt a lot more comfortable. I was able to roll faster and smoother through the entire descent, launching all the rocks I felt comfortable with. Then the climb up Powerline. With the minutes ticking by, I tried to hustle the best I could. Something I still need to work on... Hustling with my bike up steep hills is not a strong point of mine. No more peanut butter on the road - just a hard track. Keep going, keep riding hard. I couldn't remember how long it had taken me to ride Skyline-JoshO's-Rattlesnake-Becks-Notch before, but I was running out of time. I needed to ride those trails as fast as I could.

Silhouetted against the sky on Rattlesnake
Nick was waiting at the road crossing to JoshO's. I took the offered Snickers and the bottle of coke - a nice baton style handoff as he ran behind me to give me the coke. Drank as much as I could and set in on the Snickers. Instant energy - sugar, caffine and yummy chocolate. With this being my last run at everything, I was determined to ride it all. I knew I could and I didn't have a second lap to save for. All of JoshO's - clean and smooth. Even the left hand turn up the rock slab, which I had chosen to walk on the first lap. Time for fun - time for Rattlesnake. Nick was at the entrance to Rattlesnake, cheered me on and then I had to ride. A-game it indeed. I didn't have time to walk anything. Luckily, the slime had dried and the rocks were again tacky. Up and down, eyes on the trail, weight back and low. Power up the climbs, keep the weight on the saddle. At the spot where I'd nearly endoed on my first lap, splatters of blood now covered the rocks. I took a slightly different line and had no issues. Two more trails left - Becks and the Notch. I was down to minutes. Good thing I knew those trails... And I used every inch of knowledge, screaming down Becks, leaning into every berm, launching off the rocks and flying. At least I felt like I was flying. Top of the Notch - again cleaning something that I struggled with at 24 Hours in the Sage for years. Less then three minutes. There was no time left to think. I dropped like a stone, taking lines and chances I never do at Sage. Two more sharp turn and the line was in sight - and the clock still read 6:59....

Crusing in at the finish line, just barely beating my time goal
6:59:33... I'd met my goal of breaking seven hours. Granted, we did have the shortened start loop, but I was still where I wanted to be. I'd also been able to keep the pressure on myself the entire race - not slacking of or falling back into "just riding" mode. I wasn't any higher on the podium - finishing 5th this year, but was closer to the leaders. I still have a lot to learn about racing this long of an event, but every time I get a little smarter and stronger. This wasn't a perfect race - I let some things get to me, including the weather at the start. But I pulled thru and stayed in the moment mentally. Very happy with my performance this year and it provides a solid base for the rest of the season. 

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