Race: Wilmington Whiteface 100k
Date: Saturday, June 3rd 2017
Riders: Teresa DiSessa-Johnson
There’s 67 miles and over six hours of racing to unpack, so I wanted to start by saying that the event staff made this a wonderful event from check-in to afterparty! On-course support was excellent as well. Every turn of the course was well-marshaled by police, firemen, race officials, and volunteers. Well-stocked rest stops with plenty of friendly volunteers came every 15 miles of the course. The event was so well run, I felt really valued and supported as a racer.
Now for the good stuff! I signed up for this event, which was billed as 69 mostly dirt and paved road miles with 9,000 feet of climbing, with no little trepidation. I'd been wanting to try an endurance mountain bike race for years, and with a fun squad of three teammates this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I found it helpful to study the course map on the event website, which included a cue sheet broken down into segments (ie, 4 miles of dirt road with 500 feet of elevation gain and 400 feet of elevation loss). An embedded media player even showed bar cam footage of each segment! Regardless, I knew I was in for a tough day of riding and the lack of first hand experience unnerved me.
So imagine my surprise and delight on race day when, after lining up with several hundred other racers at a beautiful ski resort, we covered the first five miles of the course in about 15 minutes! The start was paved and trended downhill, so I hopped from wheel to wheel, drafting at about 25mph. At mile 5 the pavement turned to dirt and the road tipped upwards. I knew pacing myself would be key, especially now that there were five fewer miles to spread all that climbing over, so I drifted back through easily 50-100 riders. I rode mostly alone for the next 15 miles, enjoying the beautiful, undulating, quiet back roads of the Adirondacks. The route was a not-quite out and back loop, so I started to see the front of the race coming towards me as I reached the 25 mile mark. Those riders were flying, in tight groups riding tactical races. I, on the other hand, was content to wave at the speedy racers I knew and chat with some of the friendly male racers riding with me, many who were returning to the event and had great insight on the coming miles.
Ironically, when we finally hit singletrack almost 30 miles into the race I felt frustrated, thinking “they must be crazy to make us race in the woods!” Fortunately I met up with team owner Teresa, who'd been riding about a minute ahead of me; I’d catch sight of her on the longer stretches, pedaling steadily away, despite injury and illness. We trudged through the woods together, happy for each other’s company. But once we emerged from the singletrack, I started to feel really good. I rode steadily up back-to-back dirt road climbs accompanied by a friendly gentleman from Massachusetts. Then I flew through miles 40-52, across smooth dirt roads, down a harrowing paved descent, through a gorge aside a raging river, in the sort of surreal flow state. My legs felt weightless, the sun and breeze felt good on my face, and I felt so happy and alive.
I caught sight of teammate Jessie, and perhaps the funniest moment of the day came when I put in a big effort to catch her, only to have her cruise past me while I botched an aid station refuel by spilling water all over myself and my camelback. I got my life together and put in another big dig, energized since I recognized I was approaching the same roads we'd started on. But the mileage didn't quite add up - it made more sense when I was directed off the main course down a side road. As at the other turnaround, faster racers who had completed the upcoming singletrack loop rode towards me. I got pretty excited as some of them were talking about finishing in under six hours-I was only about 20 minutes behind them, meaning I'd finish well under my goal of 7 hours.
I was directed into another singletrack segment and, to be honest, well, I started to cry. Sobbed, really. About three weeks ago a guy I knew from collegiate cycling was killed while riding his bike to work. He left behind a wife and barely one-year-old daughter. He was a sweet, goofy soul who loved mountain biking. The unfairness and sadness of this loss had been weighing on me for weeks, and I had vowed to dedicate this race to Nate’s memory. As I sailed through fun, swoopy, bermed red clay trail, I thought that Nate would never again feel the sweet, cool air as he sped under a green canopy of trees. He'd never get to share another mountain bike ride with his wife Jak, or watch their daughter graduate from strider bike to two-wheeler. I said what I guess amounted to a prayer for Nate and his family, and promised I wouldn't take a single pedalstroke or second with my loved ones for granted.
By the time I emerged at the other end of the trail, my heart and my legs felt wrung out. I continued up the road to the last six miles of the course. Fortunately, the other racers had prepared me, so I wasn't surprised when I was directed right at the final corner, when a left turn would have taken me back to the start line in minutes. I had about 2.5 miles and 400-500 feet of climbing to go. Unfortunately, I thought I had about 4.5 miles and 1000 feet of climbing left. I knew we had to go “up and over the mountain” to the finish; I had been thinking we would very literally crest the peak. When the road pitched up after about 2.5km of climbing, with the mountaintop looking far overhead, I hopped off my bike to walk, as I'd been doing anytime my speed dropped below 3.5mph. “Sorry, Nate, I'm hella tired,” I thought to myself. A large group rode slowly past me. I didn't realize this had been the last climb of the day and I now had to enter the last bit of rooty singletrack behind 10 exhausted racers. It didn't matter much, because as I exited the dark woods I was just so happy to see the finishing arch and hear our fantastic team support system cheering at the end!
All told, I crossed the line in 6:22:13, with a moving time of 6:12. I was proud of myself for finishing, grateful for the support of my teammates, and honored to dedicate my ride to Nate’s memory.