Kitsuma was buff and fast. I am nowhere near buff and my cautious pace was being threatened by the geared rider who was yo-yoing on and off my wheel. As the Kitsuma descent spit us out on pavement, the rider who had been in hot pursuit of my wheel pulled along side me and said "Congrats man, you did it". As he pulled away, I knew that I hadn't done anything until I crossed the finish line. Even though there were only a couple miles left in the race, I was in bad shape and in danger of becoming a useless pile of cramp with nothing I could do about it. My ride had seemed anything but fast and I had been expecting an attack all afternoon to which I would have had no answer. Lucky for me, I was never challenged and there was no sprint finish. I rolled across the finish line much like I had spent most of the race... alone. It was not until that point in the race that I knew my mind had outplayed my body and I had indeed finished ORAMM.
I had some difficulty coming up with a goal for ORAMM this year. I don't like to set goals that I don't have much control over such as beating so and so or finishing in a certain place. Because of this, I decided that I was comfortable with the idea of breaking the 5 hour 30 minute mark which has not been done before on a singlespeed. Was it possible? I wasn't sure but I told myself it was. I was looking forward to having an epic battle with some of my competition in which the pace would increase and the times would drop. Instead of playing it safe, I geared for the record and told myself it was all or nothing. Little did I know that I would get caught up in an epic battle that would lead to an all or nothing effort. The battle that I found myself in took me by surprise and did not involve any of my competitors; it was far worse than that. The battle that I was engaged in was between my mind and my body.
The race started off with a nice slow neutral roll out this year. I knew that I wanted to be towards the front of the pack once we hit Kitsuma for the first time, so I let Dicky show me the way. At some point prior to Kitsuma Dicky must have stopped for a beer because I could no longer feel his presence. This meant that I was now the first singlespeed into the singletrack. I hate being in the first position early on in a race because I get scared. When I get scared I run. When one runs early on in a race like this, they tend to get tired and bad things can happen. Before I could run, I was hit with the initial steep punchy climbs of Kitsuma. These climbs had me very very worried about my gear choice for the day.
I took it easy on the Kitsuma descent as I really had no choice. I stuck to the riders in front of me and tried to not to do anything stupid. At one point I was asking for a pass which is just plain silly at those speeds. As they declined, I thought to myself that there was no need to take any risks and that I could use those guys to draft once we popped out on the road. Once we hit the road, I drafted. Once we hit the bottom of Star gap, I popped.
I have no idea what the heck happened to me out there on Sunday. Everything was calm and controlled. The race had just started and my legs were strong. My nutrition plan was right on track and I hadn't even felt the burn of an overworked muscle yet. All I know is that once I saw Wes Dickson and hit the small climb on the dirt, my legs started to get twinges. "It's way too early for this" I thought to myself. "There is no way 5:30 is going to happen. I may be lucky just to finish now." Just as I was talking myself out of the race, I took a look at the "5:30" that I had taped to my stem and it was all or nothing from that point forward.
Unfortunately the twinges turned to full on cramps on my way up the switchback climb. I was unable to put down the power needed to clean some of the more challenging sections so I had to resort to walking. Each time I would stand on my pedals, my quads would cramp. If I sat down and tried to spin, my hamstrings would cramp. Sometimes the cramps would be in one leg and not the other and sometimes the cramps would play with both legs at the same time. During the race I had every imaginable combination of leg cramps possible. The calves eventually joined in on the fun and they must have invited the muscles in the groin because they showed up to the party as well.
The paragraph above pretty much sums up my day. I should just end the blog post there but I had so much fun out there that maybe I should keep it going.
Once I made it to the extended double track (Jarret Creek??) I was a complete wreck. I would usually start getting my spin/tuck on but there was no way that was happening today. First off, I couldn't turn the RPMs required to take advantage of the spin/tuck and second, if I had put myself in the tuck position there is a good chance that I would have been stuck in it for the remainder of the race. Instead of focusing on my goal, I was focused on my legs and the fact that it was only a matter of time before I succumbed to the DNF. Even though I was still moving forward, my riding was suffering. All I can say is that I'm glad I was on double track because I was all over the place and quite sloppy. I kept waiting to hear Dicky's bell or at least the sound of geared riders flying past me but neither happened.
I can't really recall much about the Curtis Creek climb but here are a few things I do remember.
*Being happy that I was getting to climb because I was cramping even from light spinning. Might as well be doing something that I enjoy.
*Telling myself that a 45 minute climb is a piece of cake and the grade on Curtis is easy.
*Yelling "Curtis Creek is my Bitch" while wondering what was going to cramp next.
*Since I was all alone, I was making up ghost riders on my wheel in hopes of gaining some motivation. Each time I would want to get off the bike, I would use this tactic and it worked every time.
*Telling myself that if I can make it to Heartbreak, my legs can get a rest and maybe the cramps won't come back.
*Telling myself that there is no way that I am going to be able to hike up to Heartbreak.
*Wondering what else in my legs could possibly cramp up.
*Wanting to quit over and over and looking at that "5:30" on my stem.
*Mumbling about 5:30 to myself while passing another rider only to have him tell me that we were way off the 5:30 mark.
*Wondering when I was going to get to the point when I couldn't will my legs to move any longer.
Once I finally made it to Heartbreak, I decided that I needed to take a nice controlled approach to the descent as any bike ejection event could possibly leave me unable to move. That is exactly what I did. I had a nice clean run down Heartbreak without getting caught by any other riders which I thought was a good sign. As I attempted to remount my bike after the railroad crossing, my groin cramped and I was unable to lift my leg over the top tube. I shuffled down the trail to find a level spot and figured out that if I tipped my bike to lower the top tube, I could swing my leg over it.
As I approached the last fire road climb leading us back for the second loop of Kitsuma, I gave myself a pep talk. I don't carry the time with me because I like racing by feel. Based on the rider's comment back on Curtis Creek and the lackluster performance from my legs I felt like my goal of 5:30 was unreachable. For all I knew, five hours and thirty minutes may had already passed. I took one look at my stem and I knew what I had to do. I hunkered down and laughed as twinges turned into cramps. I had ridden this far in an unbelievable amount of pain and nothing was going to stop me now. I would stand for a couple of pedal strokes and when my quads/calves cramped, I would sit. I would spin until my hamstrings/quads/groin whatever would cramp and then I'd stand. I repeated this process while catching and dropping several geared guys. It was amusing to me that I hadn't been passed by a single rider since before navigating Star Gap and here I was cramping my ass off all day and still picking guys off.
I kept telling myself that if I could make it to the top of Kitsuma that I could still win this thing however I was fully aware that my race could be over at any second. Once I hit the pavement, one of the geared guys that I had just passed came by and I worked the best I could to hold his wheel. As we approached Kitsuma he motioned me by with the encouraging words of "do your thing". I told him that I would have to walk my way up and wasn't sure if I could even walk. I took the lead and put all of the power that I could muster into my cranks. I don't know how this happened but I managed to climb the initial Kitsuma climb with just heavy twinges and zero cramps. It seemed like the more power I put down, the better my legs felt. I was going to pull this thing off! Not so fast. After the false Kitsuma summit, there are a couple more climbs. Again I tried to power up these climbs but once again my legs revolted. I found myself off my bike unable to walk. Every muscle in both legs were solid and I couldn't bend them the least bit. I managed to tip from side to side making a waddling motion down the trail.
My entire race came down to this moment. Had I put forth all of this suffering only to lose in the last few miles of the race? Was this it? Is this how it's going to end? I reminded myself that I had a goal. It was not to win, it was to beat that damn time that I had written on my stem and waddling wasn't going to cut it. I took a look at my stem one last time and the sight of those three numbers gave my mind the final push that it needed. My legs gave in as they knew that they had been beat. Once again my cranks began to turn down that buff Kitsuma single track.
I crossed the finish line with a time of 5:36:18 which took the top singlespeed honors and a top 20 overall finish. I was short of my goal by 6 minutes and 18 seconds. I will be back and my stem will read 5:30 once again.