First off I gotta give a shout out and thanks to Mr. Nicoletti for lending what I reckon to be the very jersey he wore to a 3rd place SS finish in last years race. This was my first race for FM and it felt good to rock the red and black!
It was also my first time racing the Cohutta 100, though by no means my first NUE pain cave experience. I knew there was a lot of climbing to be had, but initially I was hoping to set a personal best 100 mile time, considering all the fire road. I sort of underestimated the climbing...and the heat.
But first things first: I rolled into Ducktown, TN before dark on Friday and got myself checked-in and my drop bags dropped down at the Ocoee white water center (built for the 96 Olympics), which served as the start/finish for the race. Even though this was almost my tenth NUE 100miler, I still questioned my drop bags, always asking "what if...?". What if I flat at mile 20; will I have enough CO2 at the next aid station? What if I'm cramping near aid 4 and they don't have anything salty? So on and so forth. I settled on two bags, got my number plate and got out of there.
I rolled up to a cabin my friends and former teammates (Matt Ferrari and Vicki Barclay) have rented the past several years just outside of town. Also shacking up there was my friend and Genuine Innovations Rep, Jim (Jimbo) Malta, Revolution Cycles racer Morgan Olssen, and much later in the night, the Harrisonburg VA duo of Chris Michaels and Jeremiah Bishop (eventual race winner). First thing I brought into the house was the sixer of Terrapin Rye Pale that was rattling on the rental car floor through the North Georgia mountains. You gotta have priorities going into these races and I definitely needed these cold later in the night. So in the fridge they went.
Foolishly, well into dusk, I decided to attempt to put more Stan's fluid into my tires, which, without the nifty presta valve injector, requires a break in the rim and tire bead seal. A seal that, even with ample supplies of C02 graciously provided by Jimbo, was never again achieved that night. Luckily I only messed with the front, so after an hour or so of messing with it, I settled on putting a tube in. It looked like I was in for a bumpy ride the next day, keeping my front (unsuspended) wheel at a high psi to save from changing pinch flats. Let this be a lesson. Let sleeping dogs lie. Don't mess with tubeless the night before a race. Drink another Terrapin and go to bed early instead!
The race began easy enough. A gradual paved climb, then down a bit and a hard right onto some sweet singletrack. I was in a good mood and being somewhat of a jester the first few miles. Cracking jokes. Celebrating the flowy bits out loud. Essentially making sure the people around me weren't taking things too seriously. If they were, you best believe I was trying to crack a smile from them. The way I see it, it makes long races a helluva lot more fun.
It wasn't long until we looped back towards the white water center and I was able to cut a bunch of people off as they fumbled through some rocky bits(The "Wolf Brain"/Highgroove sticker on my fork must've given me special agility). Shortly after that though, it didn't matter much who I passed, cause we were dumped out onto the never ending, gravel grinding heart of the race. I was surprised by how many single-speeders were out. I made sure to get everyone's name and story. Half because I was genuinely interested and half because I wanted to seem like I didn't care about racing them. Hm. Maybe I shouldn't be sharing that...I was leap frogging and chatting it up with Team CF racer Nikki Thiemann a fair bit too, which was cool cause we sort of knew who eachother were from racing back in the Mid-Atlantic, but never really met until then.
All in all it wasn't until the tail end of the race that, like reverse metamorphasis, I went from being a spritely social butterfly to a slow moving caterpillar. I was strong on the long gravel road stretch out, passing people and setting what felt like a record pace, but the final loop of singletrack at the furthest point was where I let myself go. I rolled out of Aid 4 in a pack of three or four singlespeeders and held my ground until we looped back around to the same spot. It seemed as if we were at the lowest spot on course, at the base of the longest climb of the race. It was the very hill we rocketed down only a handful of minutes earlier, watching race leaders like Bishop, Pflug, and Ferrari ascend. I decided to sit and recharge at what was then Aid 5 and let several positions climb away. I was losing the battle to the heat and if the volunteers didn't run out of water, I probably would have stayed longer to rehydrate. On top of this, I had a false sense of confidence after being told I was in the low teens for single speeders. I told myself I could afford a bit of break.
Little did I know how far from the finish I really was.
I fought many demons on that backside climb. Once I was on the rollers on top and the long descent afterwards, I realized there were many others suffering. I took back a position or two before Aid 6, which seemed more of a frontline medic station than a rest stop. Several familiar faces from earlier in the race were there and I made sure to not make the same mistake twice and stay; so without letting too many leave ahead of me I rolled out.
The final miles seemed to last forever (sort of like this race report!). Nothing too exciting, just a lot of cursing the heavens and asking "why is this not over yet?!". I did finally pinch flat that front tube on the last few miles of singletrack. Miraculously the residual Stan's still left in the tire from the night before reverse sealed the tube. Temporarily.
Quick fix. Slow finish.
As I rolled through the finish in a daze only a hundred miles on a bicycle can give you, I looked behind to see 18th place in SS hot on my heels. Just goes to show, the race is always on at these events.
My friend Matt (3rd place SS) was of course already showered, sitting nearby with Jimbo. With my finisher mug, Jim discretely poured me some of that Terrapin and I sat there at the finish, content. I by no means broke my 100miler record, but I was done. And for that moment, that was good enough.