I have a new definition for the word "sufferfest": Whiskey Off-Road 50 Proof. Yesterday was the 2006 WOR and I signed up for the 50 Proof - roughly a 50 mile race through singletrack and jeep roads around Prescott (prounced "press-kit"), AZ. The race was gruelling. The downhills were super fast and kept you on your toes the whole time, and if you weren't going down you were going straight up (or so it seemed). Throw in some heat, and you have a recipe for an epic race.
The race started on Whiskey Row in downtown Prescott, and turned up from there. The climbing wasn't too bad until we started to get out of town and hit some brutal 10+% grades on the road. Little did I know, the day wasn't going to get much better.
Once we got onto the singletrack, I started to find my rhythm. I had been climbing the paved and jeep roads well up to this point, but my strength for the day was the flats and downhills. It wasn't the normal everyone rides faster on those, it was I was passing people left and right and just flying. Short of being off my my bike on a downhill section, I didn't get passed once and passed over a dozen people. I felt in the zone with my handling skills; I just couldn't climb.
We topped out somewhere around 6,500' on the first climb then hit a 4 mile downhill. I was flying down this. I had just passed four riders who were all bunched up when I came into a corner too hot and had my front tire wash out on me. The one benefit to the whole thing, I was wearing a helmet cam and happened to be recording during the wreck, so I caught a first-person view of what it's like to go down in an XC race. After that I felt a little tenative on that downhill, but I was able to find my rhythm later.
From there we turned up to climb back up another 2.5 miles to the first check station of the day. I doused some water on my leg because - get this - the rescue crew that was working, couldn't dispense any medication (no antisceptic spray, no tylenol, no nothing) without putting me in an ambulance and taking me to a hospital. How crazy is that? My leg will be fine, but it would have been nice to have not had to wait another 3 hours before I could go to the store and buy some spray for it. I'll definitely be letting the AZ health department know that their "rules and regulations" are putting people at risk, not helping them.
Back to the race report. From this check point we headed down to Skull Valley. The rumor was 12.5 miles down and back up, my GPS showed something closer to 10 on the downhill side though. At any rate, it was a long downhill followed by a trip back up. On the way down I passed a good chunk of the field. First place was about 3 miles up the hill, so about 6 miles in front of me. In second at this point, and looking stronger than 1st was a Bicycle Company jersey. It turned out to be Adam Hoppe, who went on to catch the guy a minute and a half in front of him and pull out the win.
The climb back up was brutal. It wasn't technical, it just never ended. The total climb back past the first check point and up to the top did end up at the 12.5 mile mark. My legs weren't on a full on cramp, but they were hurting the whole way up. I had a few sections I had to push just to do something different with my legs. That climb qualifies as an epic climb, and is something I am definitely going to incorporate into my training. It's one thing to cover 2,000' - 2,500' on a 5 mile climb, but something totally different to do it over 12 miles. The whole mental process of the climb becomes different when it lasts that long. It was something I was definitely not ready.
Back up to the top, I hit the single track and started ripping. I had been counting the riders that I was passing as I headed down into to Skull Valley and I thought I was just outside the top 50. At a minimum, I wanted to break into the top fifty, so I found my rhythm on the downhill and started flying. It was really something else. There I was, over 4 hours into the race, and I was picking some of the best lines I've picked over trails I had never seen before. I was very pleased with the result. I ended up passing a handful of people on the downhill and actually got yelled at once. :)
Ok, that requires explanation. The guy came up to me at the finish line and apologized, and I did to him as well. I was calling for a pass and even taking the bad lines, trying my best to not have them stop just ot let me by, but by the same token I was riding my brakes hard to stay behind them. When I climbed as bad as I had and was feeling so "on" when the trails turned down, I couldn't help by try to make up as much time as I could.
My goal for the day had been top 40. I figured I could easily manage that with no problem and was aiming for a top 20. I thought I had blown both of either of those by my earlier counting of the riders headed up the hill. I hadn't passed very many riders on the climb, so I figured at best I was just outside the top 40. When I checked the results I was floored to see I had pulled 29th. It wasn't my top 20, but as horrible and slow as I felt on the climbs, I'll take it any day.
I ended up with a time 4:46:08 for 43.66 miles and 7,602' feet of climbing. I definitely plan on doing it again next year as this race will be a great fitness gauge as to how I'm doing going into the summer.