My previous post mentioned not being too thrilled about camping in severe weather. I saw the weather report on Friday afternoon that listed all of the western counties of Iowa under a Tornado Watch and said "to heck with it". No way I was going to drive up and camp in that. So I slept at home Friday night, packed up the car for the race and planned a 7 am departure.
I hit the road Saturday morning right at 7 am and had read Facebook posts from the race site that things were nice and dry at Ponca State Park with hero dirt awaiting us. I checked the radar before leaving, and it looked like a storm cell was headed for that area. 3 hours later as I hit Sloan, IA just south of Sioux City the skies were dark and a storm was underway. However, by the time I arrived at Ponca State Park, the storm had blown through, the sun was out and I was sure racing would be as planned. The same type of storm hit a year ago which made things a bit greasy, but we managed to race last year.
When I checked in I was told all classes would begin at 12 noon as the Marathon race had been delayed from the planned 10 am start due to the rain. Not a problem. A little greasy which would mean some hike a bikes on the steeper, slicker climbs. This was the final day of Week #11 of my training plan and has me coming into a peak, so I felt pretty good physically and was ready to race. I did a 30 minute warm-up, got my bottle all ready, took a GU shot and headed to the starting line.
All of the Category II racers started together en masse...
And I was in the middle of the pack...
It was tire to tire once we got to the singletrack and I think everyone had the same thought on their mind: "How will my tires do in this greasy mud?" Mine were doing okay, but I felt some slipping of the rear wheel going through corners so remained cautious. I think the conditions kept most of us "in check" during lap one, or that could be my imagination as we went as fast as we could without losing control in the slightly slippery corners. A new section of trail had been built and opened that we were racing on and it was primo stuff! Nice off camber with some good climbs and descents. Really fun stuff.
After descending back by the campground and riding the connector section of pavement over to the next singletrack section, the first steep climb up a ravine had everyone in front of me dismounting from their bikes. Traction was difficult and everyone was pushing their bikes and hiking up the hill. I dismounted and followed suit, but about 10 - 15 yards later, I climbed back on and rode up the hill. I was able to keep traction while seated and passed a few people who were pushing their bikes.
I hit another steep section later on that required a dismount and hike a bike up the hill. I tried not to run up the hill and jack the heart rate too out of control. I remained cautious on some of the slicker descents, but by the time I was entering the final section that led to the finish line, I had caught up with Kory Hill who is in the 40-49 year old group. I settled in behind Kory for the start of lap 2 and he mentioned his tires were not doing so well and I said we were all having the same difficulty. He kept dismounting on some of the short steep sections, but I remained on my bike grunting and spinning out the climbs. After a couple of minutes, he said I could get by him whenever I wanted, so I took the opportunity and passed him. The slick dirt started to feel better in lap 2 as enough bikes had been over it to mash in the wet stuff and I started being a bit less conservative and pouring on the power in the sections that I could.
I still had a concerned look on my face as I used facial English and body English to stay upright throughout the slippery course.
Ponca is always a nice climbing course and I was looking foward to making all the climbs in the dry hero dirt, but the morning thunderstorm had rendered that impossible. In lap 2, I also had to dismount and hike-a-bike a couple of the steep sections which were even slippery for our feet to get a good hold of going up the hill. Mud would build up enough between the tire and arch in the frame or in the bottom bracket area to act like a brake requiring stopping to pick the mud out so the wheel could rotate freely without rubbing against built up mud in the frame.
Although lap 2 felt like it was much faster, I was really only 16 seconds faster in lap 2 than I was in lap 1. At least the pucker factor was reduced thanks to the corners not being as slippery as the trail conditions improved. I hit it hard during the last section as I saw a rider a couple of hundred yards ahead of me. I took some chances, and really pounded out the climbs in the big ring to catch up and pass the rider about 20 seconds before crossing the finish line.
I rolled across the line in 1:18:56 which was good enough for 2nd Place and my 2nd Podium Finish of the year!!!
Podium spots for my group were...
Thomas Jeffreys - 1st (1:12:31)
Bruce Brown - 2nd (1:18:56)
Jerry Hoff - 3rd (1:24:27)
I had a nice visit with Jerry after the race while we waited around for the awards ceremony. The weather was humid, but had stayed relatively cool (in the 70's) for the race which I found to be nice and pleasant. Kudos to Brandon Mullins and his crew for having an excellent course and dealing with the rain situation. The drive up and back were totally worth it as Ponca is always challenging - whether it is dry or wet. It's a course with some good climbing and very wooded, scenic singletrack.
I made it home around 6 pm for dinner and recovery.
This is week #12 of a training program that has led me to peak. Rather than choose this particular time as a peak based on certain events, it was more based on the timing of doing the structured 12 weeks and when I started that led to it being now. I've never done one of these structured plans, so it is very interesting to work through it all and experience what my body feels like at this point. I can adjust the timing of it all for next year by choosing when to begin my training in the off season.
Last week and this week were tapering weeks. Looks like there is plenty of climbing on tap for the course at Red Wing as well, so we shall see what happens. I've raced there a couple of times, but was unable to make it last year. So I am looking forward to having another shot at it.
Today I mowed and trimmed the lawn this morning before it got too hot, and will hit the weights before dinner. Tomorrow are more taper intervals. The weather looks like a beautiful week in the 80's for the rest of the week, but it is 90 as I write this. Looks like we actually have 3 days of no rain which is a first as we wrap up this spring and move into summer later this week.