It’s 3:40 AM and my brain suddenly clicks into “race mode.” I fidget and roll until I eventually find myself staring at the ceiling. I do the math: To bed at 9:30 awake at 3:30, that gives me 6 hours. Looks like it’s going to have to be enough. I get up and head to the coffee pot, check the interwebs, and eat my first Powerbar of the day.
The good news is that I suddenly remember that the the local Lions Club is having a pancake breakfast at registration. I pull up the site and see that it’s scheduled to begin at 6:30 and the race start is at 8:30.
Cool, I drink my normal pot of coffee, re-pack my race bag, and load up for the hour drive to Perryville.
This will be my first foray into the “Endurance” side of mountain bike racing. The Slobberknocker is a 75 mile gravel grinder with 8,000 feet of climbing and absolutely zero single track. There will be about 15 total miles of pavement, mostly to get in and out of the start town. The rest will be fire roads and wilderness access roads for the National Forest Service. I’ve ridden here several times and know how easy it is to blow up on the climbs or go all out, way too early. I’d never done the run in from Perryville, which was new to the race this year. As I said earlier, half of the run in will be pavement, which will be an added blessing for the run back into town after fighting the climbs for 50 miles.
I get to registration and see many familiar faces. I shake a few hands and talk some trash with some team mates. I pick up my number and proceed to check out breakfast. The Lions did it up right. Pancakes, eggs, biscuits, gravy, toast…you name it. Plus the added bonus of all you can drink coffee and OJ. A big thumbs up and a very happy belly. I check out the course map and make a few new friends.
After breakfast I kit up, get the bike ready, and plan out my nutrition for the race. I decide to run a pretty high psi in both tires, 40 front and 45 rear. I give my shock a couple of additional pumps too and load my pockets full of gels and blocks.
The start line was in the center of town and they started everyone at once, about 110 racers total. There was a neutral roll-out behind a team car for a mile and after that it was full throttle from the gun. I settled in with a group of 4 guys and we started alternating pulls in a rotating paceline. This worked for about 4 miles until 2 guys got shelled and fell off the back. I started talking to the other guy and we shot the shit for the next 10 miles or so, until he fell off right after hitting the fire road to Flatside Pinnacle. I knew this part of the route well and I settled into the hour of climbing ahead of me. Check point one was at 27 miles and I hit it right at an hour and a half. The legs were feeling good and body was coping well and I recovered a bit on the downhills. My goal was to hit CP2 (mile 40) right at 3 hours and I was spot on. So far, so good. I topped off my bottles, put on more chamois cream, and headed back to the hills. I climbed well back to CP1 (we were looping back on the same road we’d come in on). I took a hand up and realized that after this point it was mostly downhill for the next 30 miles. Sweet! Right around mile 52 or so, I started to feel a little bit of a bonk. I’d taken a gel about 3 miles prior and was staying up on my hydration. Things got a little fuzzy for a bit. I had zero power and didn’t feel like spinning the downhills. I got really depressed for about 5 minutes and even started to tear up thinking about seemingly routine things. Luckily the caffeine from the gel kicked me right in the ass, right when I needed it. I hit the big ring and get down to the valley below.
I was soon out of the hills of Lake Sylvia and headed back west to Perryville. The gravel road became pavement for a few miles and then once again, I got spacey for a few miles. I was spinning along at about 15 miles an hour but my mind was adrift somewhere. I zoned for the next 6 miles or so until I realized I was about to get off the gravel for good. I snap back to reality and start spinning fluidly again.
Ahead of me, the clouds parted and a lone sunbeam shone down to alert me that the pavement was around the next corner. From here, it was 5 miles of good downhills and a damned headwind. I had to laugh at the wind, no rest for the wicked. My average immediately picked up and I passed a few competitors ahead of me. I hit the line at 5 hours, 30 minutes. 75 miles seemed like a blur and my body was pretty well spent. I think I came in around 25th, which was a success in my book. I was happy with the almost 14 mph average that I attained and that I wasn’t DFL. There was food and drink at the finish but I didn’t feel like sticking around. I was beat and I knew there was a Sonic right around the corner. I’ve never had a better Cherry-Limeade in my life.
Course map here.