Thursday, March 12, 2015

Put Some South in Yo' Mouth

For the past few years the husboy and I have used Spa City Marathon in Hot Springs, AR., as our cold weather escape. Heading into the season after a crappy February for outdoor training, I was looking forward to getting out on some actual dirt on my newly purchased Trek Superfly FS 9.9. With only driveway miles on Powder Puff, I was a bit nervous taking her for her maiden voyage on a 40 mile race. But I've done stupider things.

Even Sweater was like WTF!
Larry Kintner was the only other passenger in the MTB Wagon. The plan was to camp at the venue but the forecast was telling us to change plans. With snow in the area early in the week and overnights in the 20s, I took to the inter webs and booked us a cabin about 20 minutes away. It added to the budget but it was better than getting a hotel in a very touristy town. And what a gem. Edgewater Resort run by two transplants from Chicago, was nestled on a finger of Lake Ouachita, in a neighborhood just outside of town. 

Traveling in was disheartening as the snow seemed to deepen the closer we got to Hot Springs. Our cabin roof was blanketed in snow as were the sidewalks. Luckily the cabin had a nice heater but aside from that appliance, the place was straight out of the 60s, complete with dark wood paneling and plastic flowers. Well, I guess it did have a flat screen TV but when I'm traveling, I don't count that as an amenity.


The order of the day was food, cabin, ride. With the forest still in winter hibernation, it was easy to see the snow on the ground up in the hills. We waited a bit before heading to the venue to check out what we were getting ourselves into and also to let the mercury rise. Yeah, that was dumb. The trails were still snow packed and muddy and wet and just deflating. My new shiny bike was about to get shit splattered. Not only that, the water crossings soaked my gear and my attitude. We got to a road crossing about 2 miles in and I'd seen enough. We took the road back to the parking lot. Everything was soaked. It was going to be a shit show. Dammit, Mother Nature!

Before shot of Powder Puff
After we checked in for the race, we hit the local shop to pass some time. Back at the cabin Ryan threw some rice in the rice cooker in preparation for our homemade chicken burrito bowls. While it cooked, I decided to wash the kit I just used and wear it for the race instead of ruining my good kit. The heater put out some high temps so I hung everything on a hanger above it and leaned my shoes on it. Larry ended up doing the same. It was going to be a 30 degree difference between the start and finish of the race, so deciding what to wear was perplexing. For me I just wanted to make sure I stayed dry so I went with two layers, my Bontrager wind jacket and wool socks. With it being a lapped race, it would be easy to take off layers or switch out gloves.

All bundled up and ready to rumble.
The next morning, we were at the venue around 6:45 a.m. The race was supposed to start at 8:30 but they delayed it 30 minutes to let the sun hit the hillside that we were going to run up to get to our bikes. There weren't very many racers, maybe 125. Lorraine Coffield, from TN, whom I've raced many times, was among the women and a couple others I didn't know. My mental state was relaxed. I'd take the day's challenges as they came. I didn't like that I was about to destroy my brand new bike though. 


The racers were broken up in two waves: less than 5 hour finish time and more than five hours. I went in wave one. Each lap would be 10 miles and I was betting I could in 1:15 considering the conditions. We were staged at the bottom of a steep and mushy hill with at least a 50 yard dash to our bikes. I suck so bad at running but it did warm me up quickly. I went into the trees right behind Lorraine. The track was one big puddle. Mud was spraying off everyone's bikes. The first short power climb was in snow. As the trail took us upwards it improved a little before leading us into one bog after another. Water crossings were wicked cold but you just had to take it. The pace was manageable. Lorraine and I were at the back of a train for the first few minutes. We broke free after being able to manage a greasy climb where others dabbled. My heart rate was pegged. I knew I had to back off soon but I hung on for a few miles. I heard another woman behind around mile 3 so I knew I was in for a long day. The track, though wet, were surprisingly grippy. In an open section, Rachel, a 30-something from the area, went around both Lorraine and I. I was hoping I'd see her again after such a big effort this early. 

First lap. BRRRR!
Slowly I started to fade back. I was at a pace that would get me around 4 times without doing something stupid. I've crashed both times I've done this race and I didn't want to repeat it. Not long after Rachel went by, Lorraine disappeared in the trees too. I just wasn't up for chasing. I was really there to test out the bike, which by the way, ruuuuuules! I've been racing XC for 15 years and this is the stiffest bike I've been on yet. The Rockshock fork and Monarch shock make for an awesome system for racing bikes. The terrain was rocky and I was probably set up a bit harsh for my taste but it handled everything the trail threw at it. From mud to snow to water, I had no issues. The Bontrager Team R2 tires were the bizomb! Both Ryan and I were pretty stoked on how well they performed (though we were running 2.3 front and 2.2 rear). Who wants to change a tire in this shit? Might as well pack the serious gear for the job.

Might as well smile, right?
ANYWAY, back to racing. Well I don't have much to say. As the day warmed up the track just got worse due to all of the snow melting. We were all covered head to toe, tire to tire in slop. My bike was now mud brown and you couldn't even see our # plates by the end. We had to yell them out at the timing table. My jacket served me well, protecting my jersey and arm warmers. My shorts were a whole 'nother story as was my once white wind jacket. I looked like a shat myself. It was just laughable. I ate as much mud as water from my bottles. I couldn't wipe my nose because my gloves were soaked. My feet were frozen at first but with the warm temps rising throughout the day, they thawed out despite my shoes being absolutely soaked through. I'll give props to my Castelli wool socks for saving my little piggies.

By lap 3 I was feeling the race. I could tell I hadn't been on any long rides this winter. I took a long break and changed out gloves. I wasn't in a huge hurry though I did just want to get the damn thing over with. I saw Ryan on the last lap up the switch back climbs. I thought I would catch him but once the trail pointed down he was gonzo. Meh. I did catch quite a few folks the last two laps and about 3/4 way on the last lap, Rachel had pulled over. She gave me the thumbs up so I motored on. I was still able to put out some power so I kicked it in a bit just in case Rachel would be on a terror. I passed a few more and finally made it in at 4:52. Dirty, deflated, drenched!

Post race was a chore. I sat next to a stream and washed out my shoes, socks, jacket and knee warmers. Then I hung them on my bike to bake in the sun. The line for the bike wash was too long so I worked on getting myself cleaned up as best I could. There was dirt and grit is places that dirt and grit don't belong, let me tell ya, but without a proper shower, it was just gonna have to do. Post race noms were large baked taters with all the fixins. It went down quickly! Then it was podium time and finally a bike bath. It was long day and despite the mud and all the stress, it was still a good time.

Women's Podium
Larry found out it pays to move up an age group!
But the day wasn't over. It was about 4pm and BBQ was on the schedule. True to tradition, we headed to the same place we always do and since it was early, we got a table immediately. Ribs all 'round, of course! And though we had plenty of south in our mouth from the race, washing it all down with some southern style smoked meat made the trip worth it.

We spent the rest of the night putting back beers and chillin on the bank of the canal at the resort. Bikes, BBQ and beer! Need I say more?