The Middle Georgia Epic (MGE) route has had a roughly 5-mile section on Smith Road that consists of nearly impassable, sloppy, peanut-buttery mud, even when it hasn't rained in a while. After just a few rotations, your wheels seize up, and you have to stop to scoop out mud. Epic, yes, but also painful, especially because this section has been on both the way out and on the return.
Robert and our friend Jake pre-rode the course a couple of weeks ago. Jake took the photo on the right with the stuck truck. At first Dustin was reluctant to take out this section because Robert and Jake are primarily roadies, and he thought they were being soft. However, someone else sent Dustin the photo on the left, taken just a few days before the race, when we had had significant rain. That convinced Dustin to reroute us for safety concerns. If someone had a medical emergency in this section, it would be hard to get to him/her.
Whatever the reason for taking out the Smith Road section, I was glad. When I got the news, I felt like a huge weight lifted off me. I knew the race still would be hard, but this made it seem much more manageable.
Even so, I still had pre-race jitters yesterday morning. Logically, I told myself I shouldn't worry. I ride lots of long rides, and I can ride hard. My best would simply have to be my best. If someone beat me, kudos to her. Still, my nerves were getting to me. I thought about Cosmo, one of my beloved greyhounds that I had for years. He always had a sensitive stomach and sometimes barfed for no apparent reason. He would get a rather green look on his face, and I would tell him, "No barfy, Cosmo!" It kind of worked. So, I told myself before the MGE, "No barfy!"
Robert and I left at 0'dark thirty yesterday morning to drive to the Blue Goose bike hostel in Irwinton, the staging area for the race. I organized my gear, including unwrapping my Clif Bars and sticking them in my jersey pockets for easy access during the race.
Apparently, I was more nervous than I realized. OK, I was a spaz. I checked in and got my race number, which I managed to lose within five minutes. I thought a wind gust picked it up while Robert and I had the car doors open on both sides. Meekly, I went back for another race number, which Dustin graciously provided. As soon as I got back to the car, I found my original race number. Of course. I had crumpled it up and stuck it with my Clif Bar wrappers into the MGE mug that they gave me at registration. D'oh!
We lined up in front of the Blue Goose just as the sun rose. A sheriff's deputy gave us a neutral escort through town to the first turn. Soon we came to the first dirt section, which was about a mile and a half long. The fastest guys were off the front in no time. I reminded myself to race my own race, at my own steady pace.
After that first short dirt section and back on pavement, I caught up to a woman. A young guy soon joined us. The three of us rode together for most of the first half. The woman introduced herself as Nicole. The young guy turned out to be Joe, whom I had met last year when our mutual friend Graham convinced him to join us on a 200K brevet.
|I was grateful for my riding companions Joe and Nicole|
|Joe took this photo of me. Although certainly not as bad as Smith Road, the other dirt roads could be kind of sketchy. He's way more coordinated than I am to be able to take a photo while riding on one!|
I was trying to size up Nicole. I can't deny that I'm competitive. At a minimum, I wanted to keep up with her and possibly have a sprint to the finish. Although we didn't talk much during the race, I could tell that she was super friendly. So I tempered my crushing instinct with the thought that at least I had a new friend.
Oh, who am I kidding? I saw an opportunity to move ahead, and I took it. We turned onto Ellington Road, which usually has a very loose sandy section where I have to walk my bike for 100 ft or so. However, it had rained enough that the road was ridable - difficult, but ridable. Toward the end of Ellington Road, I pulled ahead of Nicole. I never saw her again during the race. Joe went with me.
Soon we approached Montrose. Starlings were everywhere. They were quite vocal, too. Although I don't think I've noticed a correlation between their group calls and rain, it seems like I notice their sound more on overcast days. Joe commented on how eerie Montrose seemed because of all the starlings. I chuckled and told him that, ironically, there's a big haunted house there every October (Haunted Montrose). I'll probably always think of the eerie starlings of Montrose whenever I ride through there in the future.
By the way, I couldn't resist telling Joe one of my favorite words: murmuration. That's what a group of starlings is called. Isn't that cool?
Joe and I continued on, taking turns pulling. Another guy joined us a few miles before the single SAG stop in Eastman, which was approximately at the half-way point. However, as we got closer to town, I started pulling ahead of them. I stopped at the SAG only long enough to refill my bottles, and then I immediately got back on the road. It's not that I wanted to drop them intentionally, but I was in race mode. I rode the second half by myself.
The weather was actually quite decent for February. Afternoon temperatures were in the 60s, and the only rain was an intermittent, very light mist. It was overcast, blanketing the landscape in a winter melancholy. Still, it was beautiful. I was working too hard to truly be able to take it all in, but the pastoral scenes seeped into my subconscious.
The whole race I kept telling myself, "Ride steady, steady. Keep going." During long, hard rides I use any mental trick I think of. I thought singing a song in my head might help, but nothing particularly came to mind except when I got to the Allentown city limit sign. "And we're living here in Allentown..." (Thanks, Billy Joel!)
Robert recently started using Infinit, a powdered drink mix that's specifically formulated for endurance sports. It's intended to give you the calories you need while you simultaneously drink. I decided to try it yesterday. I had two bottles of Infinit plus three Clif Bars. Maybe my body adapted well to the Infinit because later in the ride , I felt kind of barfy when I ate a Clif Bar. It was a different barfy from the nervous barfy before the race started. This was barfy due to physical stress.
I was almost out of water as I left Danville, the last town on the route. I considered stopping at a church to refill my bottles, but I didn't want to lose any time. I estimated that I had about an hour and a half left. I'd simply make do with the little remaining water I had.
Pushing Through to the End
I was getting really tired toward the end. Time for more mental tricks. I thought of Fleetwood, one of my sweet greyhounds. He's a big ol' sack o' love. He's also the most energetic greyhound I've ever had, which probably is partially due to him not yet being three. I talked to him in my mind, "OK, Fleetwood, fill up my tank with some of your energy! But don't let it out in one of your bursts of activity; I've got to dose it out."
|Fleetwood and me|
I kept an eye on my Garmin, watching the miles tick off. Come on, you can do this. As I made the return trip on the J.R. Sims Road detour, I took another bit of positive energy from the thought that at least I didn't have to ride on Smith Road. Smith Road is demoralizing enough only six miles into the race, but having to do it again at the end of the race is even worse.
I made the turn back onto Lavender Road, the last dirt stretch before the end. Gah! Where did this big dirt hill come from? I felt like molasses going up it.
A little more downhill, then back onto pavement, and up a slight roller to the main highway. A block later, the traffic light cooperated. One final, rude climb into downtown Irwinton. I ground, ground my way up it - if I could just make it to the top, it was and easy half-mile to the finish line.
I wouldn't call it a sprint, but I crossed the finish line with my last bit of strength. I was the first female finisher! I was also toast. I started walking my bike back to the car. Half way there, it occurred to me that I could have ridden my bike to the car more quickly, but I didn't bother getting back on.
My legs hurt! That was a different experience for me. I think it was the result of two things: 1) That was probably the hardest I ever rode the MGE. 2) I likely didn't eat enough during the race. Fortunately, after a little rest and some food, my legs felt normal again, if fatigued.
Also, I was breathing hard for at least 10 minutes after I finished racing. I changed clothes, used the facilities, and didn't start breathing normally again until I started eating.
I was glad to chill for a while until time for the podium. Nicole came in only 12 minutes after I did. We got a chance to talk while we waited for the third 200K woman to come in. She was so nice, and we had a lot in common. I wish we lived close enough to ride together.
After I while, I saw that live race results were being posted online. I noticed that Nicole wasn't even in my category; she was in Women Under 40, and I was in Women Over 40. We both got 1st place!
The third woman still hadn't come in. Dustin asked if Nicole and I wanted to do an overall women't podium or stick with the original categories. Because she and I were both ready to head home, we opted for a podium with just the two of us in our respective categories. And I had the perfect spot for it - Banana Pudding Podium!
In addition to occasionally hosting bicycle races, the Blue Goose is also the home of the state Banana Pudding Festival at the end of April.
A big thank you to Dustin for putting on the MGE! Despite the difficulty, I enjoyed the race. (Or maybe I can say that now because it's over - ha ha!) Several aspects of my regular riding make the MGE particularly suited to me. First, I'm always trying to keep up with the guys on our regular Tuesday Worlds and Peach Peloton rides - great training! Also, I do a lot of brevets, which are 200K or longer. Not only that, I'm used to getting in and out of controls quickly on brevets. I simply went even more quickly at the single SAG stop on the MGE.
|"Speed it up a little!"|
The PBP Connection
I'm really getting into Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) mode. The night before the MGE, I dreamed about PBP. I was at a convenience store and thought, "I've only got 300K to go!" It wasn't a very restful dream, but then I never sleep very well before a big cycling event.
Although I don't have nearly as structured a training regimen as when I did RAAM a few years ago, I will do a lot of long rides in the coming months. The MGE fits well into my PBP training plan because like I did with RAAM, I want to train harder than I'll actually go at PBP. I thought about PBP during the MGE yesterday. In addition to long rides, some intensity training is also good preparation. Racing the 200K option of the MGE was like a PBP interval.