Monday, July 30, 2012

NUE #7, The Wilderness 101

So, this past weekend I did another 100 mile mtb race.  No surprise there, right?  It's one of my favorites, a grand-daddy of the sport and also one of the closest ultra endurance races to my home in PA.  It is the Wilderness 101, which starts and finishes in Coburn, PA. 

After doing a 100 mile race in Bend, OR last weekend, traveling and working this past week, I was sure hoping my legs would find time to recover a little bit for this race.  As most know, my season has not gone as smoothly as some of my past race seasons have.  I've done my best to keep my head up and to keep racing strong, so I was hoping my positive outlook on racing and life in general would all come together at the W101.

Things seemed to be fine at the start of the race.  The pack was actually riding at a slower pace and making it quiet easy for the SS group to keep pace with the geared guys on the fast gravel roads leading to checkpoint #1.  It was probably a little too slow for me actually, as I like to gain some separation from other SS riders on this section of the course.  But, when I looked around this year, I saw SS riders all around me.

This scenario quickly changed, however, when the pack went through checkpoint #1 and started the long rocky climb out of that checkpoint.  Suddenly, I only saw two other SS riders at the front with me: Patrick Blair and Matt Ferrari.  I am pretty familiar with racing against Matt; we seem to always battle it out at the beginning of these 100 mile a good way.  On the other hand, I have very little racing experience against Pat and I wasn't sure what to expect from him in a 100 miler.

Riding the bridge at the end of the "Beautiful" Trail.
I learned soon in the race that Pat was a very capable climber.  He was definitely putting a hurting on me as I tried to hang with him.  But, on the second big climb out of checkpoint #2, at around mile 50 or so, Pat put about 30 seconds on me going into the first real technical single track downhill.  I chased after him and paid the price for doing it by getting a flat tire from one of the sharp rocks on the descent.  Thinking my flat was 100% caused by hitting a rock too hard and not a puncture, I did a fast repair and didn't feel the inner part of my tire for anything sharp.  I almost always feel the inside of my tire, but in my rushed state, I failed to do this important step.  And, sure enough, my haste left me with another flat a short 100 yards down the trail.

This time my repair was not as quick because I only had one tube with me, which was used for the first repair.  Luckily, after I did some trail side begging, my friend, Vegan Rob Lichtenwalner, gave up his one and only tube to me.  That, my friends, is the sign of a true friend.  With a tube now in hand, I completed my repair and jumped on my bike to start racing again.  I knew my time gap behind Pat was going to be hard to overcome, but I also knew it was a long race with a lot of miles in front of me.

During my tire repair, I was also caught by Matt Ferrari and my TOP Gear teammate, Justin Pokrivka or J-Pok for short.  J-Pok and I rode together off and on until a short distance past checkpoint #4.  He was slamming the technical stuff like he always does and I was riding the climbs hard like I usually do.  In the end, my climbing ability out-paced his descending ability and I was able to get a gap over him.  During this time, I also received some on-the-trail- intelligence from another rider telling me that Matt was only four minutes up the trail.  Hearing that bit of information gave me even more motivation to keep riding hard.

On the long and rocky Panther Hollow descent, I finally caught Matt.  I thought for sure Matt was going to give me a fight all the way to the finish, but he never caught up to me after I passed him.  I didn't think there was a chance of also catching Pat, but I stayed on the gas anyway with hopes of reeling him in by the finish.  Pat was able to maintain his lead until the finish and I came in second about 13 minutes behind him.  I would guess that was about the same amount of time I wasted with my tire issues, so I'm sure the race would have been a great battle if I didn't have my mechanicals.  But, mountain bike racing is full of issues.  I've learned this very well over the years. Some days a race is filled with luck and other days it seems as if nothing but bad things occur.  When good fitness and luck combine, racing a bike seems a lot easier.  But, learning to overcome the misfortune of bad luck sometimes feels as good as winning...well, almost anyway.

Congrats to Patrick Blair for having an outstanding Wilderness 101.  I'll definitely be looking forward to testing myself against you again, my friend.  And, there is no way I can finish this post without saying thanks to Chris Scott and his hard working army of race day volunteers that make the W101 one of the best 100 milers around. 

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Photo Credit: Bob Popovich - (Bridge Photo)


  1. Great race recap Gerry! These 100mi MTB races are so epic it seems that anything can happen out there. I was literally praying that I would not get a flat in the last 20miles or so.

    See you at SM100, I just registered. I heard it is one of the best and most epic NUE races. Can't wait!

  2. Glad to hear you are registered for the SM100, Pat. It's going to be a good one. Be careful, you might find that you become addicted to doing these 100 milers like me. See you in September, my friend.