Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Wilderness 101 - July 2005

Wilderness 101
Endurance Mountain Bike Event (100 miles!)
Coburn, PA

The 101 went pretty well. This was #5 (as far as formal 101’s go) for me. I’ve also ridden the old course about 3 times before the race was resurrected.

I started out way too hard, but that’s easy to do with so much road early on the first 20 miles. Heck, I started so hard that I was even in front of Tiffany (the women’s winner) for a little while, but then she passed me on the first real climb and I never saw her again.

It was hot all week leading up to the race with only a little precipitation, and the trails were the driest I’ve ever seen them in the 5 years of doing the race and probably the driest since I’ve been going to State College over the past 10 years. They were almost too dry—at least the fireroad climbs anyway. You had to stay right where the tracks were or you wasted a lot of energy slipping about. Weather that day of was perfect. About 60 in the morning with a high that probably didn’t get much above 80. It got really cloudy mid-way and stormed briefly, but it actually felt pretty good and made the rocks a little slippery, but not bad by PA standards.

My mental low point is always between checkpoints 2 and 3 (of 5 total), about 40-55 miles in, esp. when I have to go up Greenlea Fireroad. It’s just too steep for me, and frankly, I hate that climb. I always try to be positive and tell myself that at least I’m not walking (many people do—I had to one year when I had my knee injury), but it’s a constant mental struggle, and I feel like I’m going so slow! Well, I made it up that climb (finally!) and then down the technical Croyle trail and was on the road to Alan Seeger when a bee flew down my jersey and into my sports bra. I slapped it as right away to try to kill it, but it still stung me. I pulled over immediately and got it out of my jersey, but I was definitely stung once. It hurt like crazy, but that didn’t bother me; it was the fact that I’m allergic to some stinging insects that had me really worried. I was like “uh oh, I hope I don’t have a big reaction out here. I wonder if I will have to quit?” It was about 4 hr into the race.

So I immediately took two Benadryls (I always keep some in my Camelback) because I felt like I couldn’t afford to wait to see what might happen. Then I deliberately slowed my pace a lot (I’ve always heard a fast pumping heart exacerbates an allergic reaction) and started drinking like crazy. I waited for the hives and the itching to start like when I usually react, but they never came on strong enough for me to say it wasn’t just my imagination being paranoid. I watched my watch for an hour but had no signs other than minor itching, so then I figured I was off the hook. I did have my epi pin (which I’ve never had to use) and there were people around occasionally passing or me passing them so I think I could have gotten help pretty well. In any case, there was no point in stopping right there in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t tell if I was having the weird post-sting temperature thing going on because my body does that anyway during 100 milers sometimes or because it had clouded over and started raining. In retrospect, I’m beginning to think I’m allergic to wasps and yellow jackets but not bees. Someone else suggested that maybe my adrenaline was so high after 4 hr of racing that the reaction was abated. So who knows?

My advice to anyone: Do not race on Benedryl. It is NOT a performance enhancing drug. Not only does it make you loopy, but it sucks every bit of water out of your system.

Somewhere around this point I ran into Kyle, a JMU student. It’s almost comforting to see him now because I’m so used to always ending up with him at some point during all the sick, twisted long events we do (like last year’s SM100, every stage of this year’s Tour de ‘Burg, and now this year’s 101). This was his first 101, and he was asking me some questions. We briefly discussed which 100 miler was better. I said the 101, but I couldn’t give him a concrete answer why. When I saw him again later in the race, I said it was because of the ferns. I'd had some time to think about the question. In this race, some of the trails are lined by ferns that look and smell awesome. It’s just so green to have them as the forest floor canopy. I think another reason I like this race better is that there is no hideous hike-a-bike (like the Lynn trail on the SM100!). And of course, there’s also all the sentimentality of going back to the place where I learned to like mountain biking. But also think I like the slightly rocky singletrack better—must be my PA roots showing through.

Speaking of, the Wilderness 101 has become a reunion for many of us from Penn State days. My friend Gerard comes back from Kansas every year to do it. Gerard and I were reminiscing about the old days of mountain biking in Rothrock State Forest when we were students. I said, “I used to be so frustrated on those rides—so far off the back and I didn’t know what I was doing, I was such a roadie.” Gerard: “Yeah, you were SO far off the back”. Me: “Yeah, and you guys waited just until I caught up and then would take off and I’d be back to chasing and crashing everywhere. I didn’t know what I was doing.” Gerard: “Yes, but you were so determined to learn.” But times have changed dramatically. A few minutes later he asked, “So do you really ride up the Sassafrass trail in the race? I walk up that every year.” Me: “Yeah, I love that trail. Now I can actually ride technical, uphill stuff.”

By check point #3, I decided I was past the likely window of allergic reaction and that it was reasonable for me to keep “racing”. I told Cathy (a PSU friend who was managing aid station #3) what happened, and she didn’t say I looked or sounded funny or anything, so I kept going. I’m sure she would have told me if something seemed amiss. I downed a coke and a caffeinated gu to offset the Benedryl and set out to defend my 2nd place. I had no idea how far back 3rd was because I’d never swapped places with the 3rd woman at any point during the race.

From checkpoint #3 onward, I drank 1 big bottle and half a 70 oz camelback between every aid station. Yet I never felt bloated. I drank another coke at checkpoint #4. After I got stung, I ate no more solid food except some gummy bears near the end. It’s like it was all I could do to drink my calories in order to stay hydrated. It was very weird compare to the usual experience where I eat a lot of different things over the course of the race. I knew the Benedryl was affecting me because I never have to pee anytime near the end of the race, and this time I did. Twice.

They added some more singletrack between #3 and #4. It was grueling at that point. It’s funny—many people whine every year that there’s not enough singletrack in the 101 and when they put more in, then most people said “gosh I hated that singletrack at that point—I wish we’d have stayed on the fireroad”. I thought it was very hard to do that singletrack at that point, but heck, it is a 101 mile mountain bike race after all. It’s not supposed to be easy!

That new section was the where the two guys right after me saw a rattler. I wonder if it was there and I just missed it or if it came after I got there. Several people saw them during the race. Two others spotted a bear on the final climb after the first tunnel. Turns out a work colleague who was hiking in the area on the mid-State trail also saw several rattlers that day. I guess they were on the move!

I remember somewhere around Checkpoint #4 thinking I was starting to feel more normal again as the Benedryl wore off, and that I actually felt pretty good. I looked at my watch and it said 7 hr. I was like, “wow, I’ve been riding for 7 hours, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. I feel pretty good.” At that point, I knew I’d make it and probably do fairly well barring the always-possible, catastrophic mechanical. Heck, there was less than 3 hrs left.

I rolled into Checkpoint #5 to find Harry and Frank (friends and 2 of the local sponsor shop owners) and 1 other guy just about to leave, so I rolled out with them and we blasted out the flat old railroad section after the first tunnel. On the climb, Harry blew us all away after getting an impressive second wind, and we all trickled in singly a few minutes thereafter, but it was fun to ride that fast part near the end with those guys. I just chugged out the final climb and Fisherman’s path and rolled it in pursuit mode to the second tunnel. I finished 9:58. I was about 45 min off Tiffany, which is a slightly bigger gap than usual, but I also don’t usually get stung, and she had her personal best time. However, I must note that she was on a singlespeed again this year. She is amazingly strong, I don’t know how she does it. I hear she is going to take on some of the pro women at Mt. Snow in a few weeks, but she will use gears for that.

Overall, I was really happy with my race. I was just psyched to have been able to keep going after the bee sting and not to loose any places. I know I started too hard, so I’m not under any illusions that I would have been much closer to Tiffany even if I hadn’t gotten stung. She’s just in another category. 3rd woman turned out to be about an hour behind me, so this year, we were all pretty well spread out--much more than usual. I finished 58th overall (out of 240), which is probably my best overall placing percentage-wise.