|On The Mohican 100k Start Line Courtesy Jen & Mark Farmer|
Wearing only shorts and socks, I could barely lift my bike on the hitch rack. Nicole was a sweetheart, considering this was only our 2nd meeting and here I am shirtless and spaced out in the front seat of their Subaru. An hour earlier, I was on pace to a sub 6 hour Mohican 100k flirting with 15-18th place. It was to be my best Mohican ever, my 4th in a row. I can hear you now, “Quit being a baby. I was out there for (enter any double digit number under 14 here) hours.” At prior races, I’ve wondered why some racers would throw in the towel at 11:30am. Stuck up baby pro’s can’t even finish their race if they can’t get a good time. As long as I got in before dark, I could still finish. I hadn’t told officials I had DNF’d. At the cabin, trying to get my wits and emotions back together with a phone call to my wife, it crossed my mind to get a ride back out to checkpoint 3 and finish the course for my own dignity. I even threw a leg over the bike. Nuh uh. Mohican isn’t about finishing at all costs any more. After I hung up the phone, I smiled and walked to the finish to turn in my number. She’s awesome.
My first Mohican, I melted in mid 90’s heat and humidity for 8 ½ hours over the 100k course. I blew my radiator cap, suffered for 5 miles, took off my shirt and shoes, topped off with coolant, rode another 5 miles and spectacularly blew again and again and again till I crossed the finish line in 8 ½ hours. It was like a legless dog dragging its way home on its front paws. The next year, better prepared for doom, I shined, finishing 18th in the open class with a time of 6 hours and 8 minutes! The third year, last year, I wanted to best myself and went into the race in incredible shape. With a great start, I rode clean, slipping and sliding through the wet roots and mossy rocks of the singletrack. On a mud choked course, back pedaling to un-due the chain suck for the 10th time, I twisted an 8 inch section of my chain at a 45 degree angle. It completely disabled my drivetrain and sawed my Niner’s scandium chainstay nearly in half before I even got to the covered bridge. Game over. Drenched to the bone, I limped back to the cabin 10 miles with my bike skipping up and down through the gears with every pedal stroke.
Mohican now is no longer about poetically overcoming obstacles. You want to talk about determination? I’ve been trying to drag my carcass across that finish line in under 6:08 for two years now. I trained to ride hard, ride long and not whither with back pain and overcome adverse weather conditions. I changed my race day diet and purchased a new frame and drivetrain. I’m no quitter.
This year I towed the front of the start line in my best shape ever. I crested the top of the road climb close enough to say I was in the mix for the $100 KOM prime. My heart rate monitor, set at 100% for my lactate threshold, floated between 96 and 103 as I graced the top 20. I flowed. I felt recovery at 96, steady climbing at 103. Forward progress, I drank and ate at the right moments, well aware that I should drink a bottle and consume the right amount of calories each hour. I was making calm sense of the chaos of racing fast. I lead the train. No one asked to pass. At my nemesis, the climb after the covered bridge, I kept it steady all the way to the top. In my first two Mohican’s I suffered here, going backwards. It was always my first “bad patch” of the race. I had prepared for this with 10 weeks of threshold hill repeats and changing my race day breakfast. I was elated. In and out of the first check point in maybe 45 seconds with two fresh bottles and some oranges, the mile markers ticked by, 18, 21. I never felt so good riding so hard for so long. The hike a bike in the single track felt 200 yards shorter than previous years. I pacelined through the fragrant pine needle fireroads leading to the horse trail descent. It was beautiful. Fast felt easy.
Maybe it was the first sign of my demise, but on a long climb leading up to the 2nd checkpoint I lost contact with the riders I was with. I still felt okay, got my 5th and 6th bottles, a swig of a Redbull and was in and out of the 2nd check just as quick as the first. Descending though some brush-hog cut “trail”, I hit what I call the trailer park road and felt home free. My computer read 36 miles or so. I was 3 hours and 40 minutes into the race. My heart rate remained just below my LT and I kept motoring. I did math in my head. With 20 miles of road and maybe 5 of singletrack, I was well on pace to a sub 6 hour Mohican. 8-10 miles of gravel and paved road would lead to 2 miles of technical singletrack and check point 3 at the 50 mile mark. Then I started losing power.
It started with a hitch in my left hip flexor. A hotspot flared on the outside of my left foot. My HRM number dropped to the low 80’s my speed to 12mph on a relatively flat paved section. My body dialed itself back to the endurance zone. This was my 4th Mohican. I call them “bad patches.” You give yourself 20 minutes, chill out, ride within yourself and they pass. I grabbed the wheel of and traded pulls with a Texas Roadhouse jersey. I thought, in the next 30 minutes I’d refuel at the 50 mile rest stop. After that, only one real obstacle remained, a long steep fire road climb. I lost his wheel and then mine.
I started to feel far away. My clock read 4:25. Chubbier people and bigger bikes began to pass. My arms ached. I felt too hot. Rolling climbs became granny gear walls. My open jersey flapped at my sides. My spin turned to a churn. My stomach twisted. I told myself, “Joe, get your shit together, the rock garden singletrack is coming up.” Breathe. I gathered enough wits to clean the rock garden, but parked it next to a barn. I stripped off my shirt, helmet and gloves and sat down. It’s just a bad patch. You can do it.
Having showered and changed in the cabin, my head hung and I welled up when I picked up my phone to call my wife. A teammate came in and I distanced myself from the box of tissues. I’m sure Brian put Kleenex and me together. I walked outside to dial. No one wants to hear you complain, let alone cry about your bad race. I wanted to feel her arms wrap around me and her words make me strong again. We talked for a long time about her Dad, her dinner with some girlfriends, and things that have nothing to do with bikes. I laughed and smiled. She’s beautiful.
She reminded me that I rode 3 hours and 40 minutes at my absolute physical limit, an impressive feat for any other race, road, mountain bike or whatever. My training did pay off. I rode all that singletrack incredibly clean and efficient. I’ll never forget how wonderful those 36 miles felt. I tamed the demons from previous races, only my good fitness opened the door to an unknown factor, complete fatigue. My only mistake, a miscalculation on the race recipe. I went out too hard too early, averaging nearly 98 percent of my lactate threshold for three hours and forty minutes. When I only needed to cook at 400 degres for 6 hours, I set the oven at 475 and periodically checked for doneness. Afterward at dinner a friend offered some great advice. Ride within yourself, not out of your mind.
Hit play and enjoy the encore.
Hit play and enjoy the encore.