It was a hot weekend.
Like, Dirty South, 96 degree w/65% humidity hot. In an effort to avoid the heat as much as possible, Matt and I waited until Saturday afternoon to make the 3 hour trip down to Ackerman, MS to set up camp the night before the Hard Nox race. We arrived just in time to get the tent & hammock up and change for a quick spin of the course start with Frank Webber before it was totally dark. I’m pretty happy that we did, because it was beneficial to know that the initial miles of singletrack were pretty tight and twisty (a lot like the Stanky Creek trails in Memphis). We made it up the first “climb” before hightailing it back to camp. My legs felt great, so I was looking forward to some serious pedal smashing the next day.
After a luxurious ham sandwich dinner, the darkness of the great outdoors activated the magic of human physiology and had us yawning and sleepy by 9pm. Somewhere around midnight, I had my only injury of the weekend when I managed to sprain my left thumb in my sleep. I don’t know why or how, but I can only assume I jammed it into the ground at a high rate of speed and folded it backwards. It woke me up and proceeded to give me nightmares about spraining all of my other fingers, which meant that I’d wake up every hour or two wiggling all of my fingers to make sure that I hadn’t hurt more than just my thumb. Luckily, by morning, it was just a dull, annoying ache accompanied by constant popping.
Sunday morning, race prep went well. I had my coffee and yogurt and changed in time to roll around for about 20 minutes before the race started. As 7:52 hit, someone told me that the 8am race start was pushed back to 8:30. So, I went back to camp, had some water, a Roctane gel, and tried to stay cool. Eventually it was time to roll down to the lake and get set up for the LeMans start. Strategy- set my bike up on the left edge of the road just behind a local guy who I knew would be smooth in his run/mount.
That strategy has never failed me, and I ended up very well placed (first woman, just behind the lead pack of men) as we rounded the turns out of the lake area and towards the trails. I was feeling great, and, once I had a good pack “spot” established, I backed off of “starting” pace and into “maintenance” pace. The trail to the mid-lap aid station was very roller-y and rooty, with lots of trees in the exits of blind turns. It kept you working. Luckily, a lot of the trail after the aid station was less complicated, and made it easier to take a slight mental break and just pedal.
I rolled into the pit area at 2 hours, 11 minutes and stopped briefly at my cooler to get fresh bottles and an extra pack of Gu Chomps. As I headed back out for lap two (a slightly modified version of lap 1), I could tell that, despite my pacing and hydration, the heat was really starting to get to me. I felt the deathmarch looming over me as my quads writhed inside my skin, threatening to cramp. About halfway to the mid-lap aid station, my left toes started to hurt like hell (same issue I’ve had in the past and haven’t sorted out yet), and I was forced to stop for several minutes to get them to quit feeling like they were being clamped with vice grips. I figured at that point that Laureen Coffelt, who tends to motor along at a slower, steady pace, was catching up to me.
I eventually made it to the aid station, had some electrolytes, and dumped several cups of ice water over myself. I focused on staying steady for the last 12 miles, taking some comfort in the thought that the course was “easier” on that end. However, I hadn’t realized that the 2nd half of the 2nd lap was different than the 2nd half of the 1st lap- meaning the trail following the aid station was just as roll-y and rooty as the 1st half instead of smoother and easier. I was majorly overheating, my left toes were trying to fall off of my foot, and it was all I could do to not think about anything other than pedaling and keeping my shit together long enough to get to the finish (I was mostly thinking of Laureen bearing down upon me any time I wasn’t going as hard as I could, which, looking at the power file, was at an intensity that’d normally be “recovery ride” speed).
I finally made it in 4 hours, 37 minutes.
In conjunction with plenty of electrolytes from various sources, I drank somewhere between 4.5 and 5 liters of liquid during the race. Afterwards, I ate a lunch, snacked all the way home, and drank a lot more. When I arrived home, I was still 5 pounds under my normal weight. There’s no telling how dehydrated I was. It was too hot to keep up with the water loss.
As is customary for winning a race with a decent cash purse, I took the guys out for sushi dinner, where we inhaled several highly Americanized, gigantic sushi rolls, topped with glorified mayonnaise and soy sauce. I’m done with racing in the heat for this year.