Hell of the North, Utah style, was held last Saturday. I hold a particular fondness for this race. Dunno why. It's a flat, 5 mile square out by the airport. 1.5 miles is hard pack gravel.
I raced it in '08, as a lark, on an old Bianchi set up as a single speed. 51x15. I spent a couple of weeks prior to the race sitting on the rollers to try to get some miles in my legs. I just wanted to go out and ride the Masters 45+ and sit in to finish. It's usually cold since it's in April, might be rain or snow too but that year, it was just cold. I actually was surprised at how well I did...considering. I stayed 4 of 7 laps and got gapped in the head/cross wind section...finished alone....dead fucking last. Half of the starters DNF'd so I considered it a good day.
This year was a bit different. From the onset of Fall, I wanted to get back on the road after a decade of MTB riding/racing. So in November I started putting in some miles outside on the fixed gear. I'm a stay-at-home dad raising two small children so getting out to ride is always a challenge but I was able to get out a couple of days a week when the weather cooperated. The weather didn't cooperate much so my riding was either non existent or sporadic at best. December came and so did really fucking cold weather...single digit cold....for a month. Riding outside didn't really happen. March rolled around and with the race to be held on April 2nd, I was needing some outside time. Again, cold/wet/snow plagued my "training" regimen.
I'm not a gym rat...can't fucking stand doing any kind of exercise indoors. So, suffice it to say, that I put on what clothes I had and rode in the wet/cold. I used to do this fairly full time when I was in college but that was then and this is now...I don't have to ride in the shit anymore. But I'm OCD if I'm anything so out I went.
The Bianchi was fitted up with gears, 7 spd cluster and downtube shifters. It's a nice ride but very out of date. 23 lbs worth of out of date but it's the only road bike I have. As the race grew closer, my anxiety about how I would do grew too. I thought I was feeling pretty good even though my riding wasn't steady. I'd gotten outside...and when I rode, I tried to ride hard hoping that my legs would remember the feeling of how to push the big gears.
The week of the race it snowed again and I wasn't psyched about maybe not having any outside days. But then I heard we were in for a big warm up...might be close to 70 deg on Saturday. I was stoked. I had gotten out a couple of days that week and it was 60's and sunny...had a couple of nice rides. There's something to be said for riding in the sun with arm warmers and heat rub on the legs. It felt like Spring was on the way.
I woke up race day to clouds and wind. A cold front was expected to arrive later that day and it was gonna get colder by the hour. I wasn't happy but the race had gone on in previous years despite the weather conditions so I was committed one way or another. Babysitter got to the house on time and I was off. I drove to the course, got my number and set out on the task of number pinning, warm up and heading to the start/finish.
I was warm-ish so I didn't don knee warmers but decided instead to try out some heat rub on the legs. I got to the start/finish area with about 5 minutes to spare so no pre course ride was doable...I was to regret that move. There was about 20 45+ Masters lined up. I knew one guy. The official gave us our instructions and we were off, just like that I was racing again. The start/finish straight was all head/crosswind, the section after turn one was a gradually increasing headwind. Next section, cross/tail wind and then on the gravel...BIG tail wind. I decided to start with the front this year instead of dead last...my plan was to stay up front through the whole race, be aggressive and try to do something other than get dropped. Mike Tyson once said, "..everybody has a plan 'till they get punched in the face..". That's what happened to me...we hit that tail wind section on the gravel and it quickly ramped up to 30mph+. I was holding my own until I hit the first of several big holes that almost dislodged me from the Bianchi. Before I got gapped, I was actually in the weeds on the left hand side loose gravel....I'm happy I know how to ride or I would have hit the deck.
Before long, I was off. My heart rate was maximum and I was on the 13 just trying to hold my own and not get too dropped. Maybe I could bridge... That was not to be. Fuck.... Now I had to ride, by myself, for the next six and a half laps. Getting dropped isn't new to me....I've been dropped more times than I'd like to admit but I felt particularly bad about this instance...I thought I was fitter. Anyway, I accepted my fate and since I'd payed my money, pinned on a number, got kitted up and on my bike...I figured I'd ride the whole distance...for training. Ya never train as hard as you race...
I picked up a couple of guys along the way but, even with my enthusiastic encouragement, they had packed it in. I couldn't believe it..."c'mon", I'd say, "let's just ride it in together"....nope, nada, zilch. So...lap after lap, I'd eat the head wind and try to drill in the tail wind section...racers race.
I ended up finishing 11th, the 6th Master Cat 3....DFL outta 19 guys, 18 starters. Out of the finishers, one guy is a Cat 2, six others of us are Cat 3's and one Cat 4. On one hand I'm pretty disappointed. But on the other hand, I'm happy that I gutted it out and just got to race again. I'm planning a couple more "festivals of pain" in the near future....mainly 'cause they're 5 mins from my house and about 45 mins. long. I'll keep ya posted.