Tuesday, September 11, 2012

NUE #12, The Fool's Gold 100

Back in April when the 2012 National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series began, it seemed like getting to the championship race would be a long haul.  But, what I didn't know at the time was how much of roller coaster ride this season would be for me.  My initial plan for this season was to do ten of  the 12 scheduled races in the 2012 NUE Series.  Doing this many ultra endurance races in a season is super hard, but I think it is the best way to go about winning the series.

By starting the season with two straight wins, I thought 2012 was going to be much like the 2011 NUE Series, where I won nine of the ten races I entered.  However, a bacterial infection from a tick bite I got while racing at the Syllamo 125 caused me to DNF at the Mohican 100 and also made me decide to not attend the Lumberjack 100 this year.  Since there were plenty of races remaining on the schedule, I still thought my chances at winning the series overall were pretty good.  I even convinced myself that taking a short break from doing a couple of NUE Races might be a good thing for me.

These thoughts all changed when I broke my left small toe three days before I resumed the series at the High Cascades 100 in July.  All my travel plans were already set for the race, so I decided to do the trip even though riding my bike and walking was a bit painful.  To add to this discomfort, I was jousted from my bike about halfway through the HC100 race by a large broken tree branch that hit me squarely in the ribs and also pierced my left bicep.  In addition to a lot of bleeding, I'm pretty sure this impact also cracked a rib.  I battled-on to finish the race, but I wondered how I would ever finish two more 100 mile races (the Wilderness 101 and Pierre's Hole) over the next two following weekends.  I was suddenly feeling like it would be very difficult for me to overcome these injuries to win the series.

Even though I was still in pain from my crash and broken toe, I decided to do the Wilderness 101 because it is located so close to home and a course I know very well. The race was going pretty well for me until I had to deal with repairing two flat tires about halfway through the race.  When I got these flats, I started to wonder if Dicky's old voodoo doll had cursed my 2012 season or something.  I fought back at the W101 to finish second, but was beginning to wonder if I would ever win a NUE race again.  Luckily, I raced well the following weekend, after flying back west to the Pierre's Hole 100, and got my third NUE win of the year.

After doing three NUE races in a row, I was happy to take a weekend off from racing before heading up to New Hampshire for the Hampshire 100.  With most of the top SS contenders of the NUE Series coming, I knew getting a win at this race was very important.  But, a few days before the race, I could tell my legs were still tired from doing three weeks straight of 100 mile races and continuing to train hard.  I also felt as if I had a cold or something a couple of days before the race, so I knew winning would be a long shot at best.  My suspicions about how I felt were spot-on, but I raced hard enough to secure a second place finish.  While not getting the win I needed, my second place finish and the finishes of the other racers at this event put me in competition with only one other rider for the series title. 

With only two races left in the season, the Shenandoah 100 and the Fool's Gold 100 championship race, I either needed to win one of these races or have my closest competitor of the series, Ron Harding, not win one of these races.  At the SM100, things didn't go as planned.  My legs were tired again from riding too much and the trails had nasty conditions from a lot of rain falling.  To make matters worse, I was having issues with a newly installed tubeless rear tire not sealing-up on my rim, which made me decided to put a tube in my tire on Sunday Morning.  While this decision saved me from probably getting a flat during the race, it made riding the slick trails a lot less fun.  It's amazing how much less traction an over inflated tire used with an inner tube has on wet trails compared to a properly inflated tubeless tire.  Since Ron was racing very well and I was having some issues, I decided to DNF at Shenandoah in order to save my legs for the more important championship Fool's Gold 100 race.  But, as it turned out, Ron was beat out by another new and strong SS rider in the series, Patrick Blair, which gave me the overall 2012 NUE Series win even without finishing the SM100.  

I must admit winning the series that way was very anticlimactic for me.  Sure, I was happy about winning the overall title again, but doing it with a win rather than a DNF to save my legs for another race would have been my preference.  So, even though I had locked-up the series, I decided to end the NUE Series on a high note and prove to myself that I was still able to win a race.  But, from past experience, I knew winning at Fool's Gold was not going to be easy.  The course is a tough one and with rain in the forecast, the trails could become a mess real quick.  

As I spun my legs around the starting area on the morning of the race, the first few drops of rain started to fall and I immediately had images of the 2010 race going through my head.  In 2010, it poured down rain, which turned the trails into streams of blood red mud.  This mud had such a high mineral content that it ate completely through my brake pads by mile thirty and caused me to not finish the race that year.  Learning from that mistake, I decided to carry three extra sets of brake pads with me this time, but was hoping I would not need them. Fortunately, the rain held off until later in the afternoon this year and the rain that did fall was not enough to cause the distress it did in 2010.
Some of the sweetness before the rain at the FG100!
With many of the fastest geared riders battling for their overall series position, the race started pretty fast once we hit the first and longest climb of the day, Coopers Gap Road.  Dwayne Goscinsky, Patrick Blair, and I were able to escape from the other SS racers on this climb, along with the fast lead group of geared riders.  We were flying up the hill and when I looked back, I saw no other chasers in view.  I chose to stop at aid #1, about 18 miles into the race, and grab a camelbak. I decided to use this checkpoint because I didn't want to carry the extra weight of a camelbak up the long climb, but I quickly lost about 30 seconds to Dwayne and Pat when nobody else in the lead group stopped with me at the checkpoint.  In order to minimize my time loss, I bombed the 2.5 mile downhill to catch the two SS riders in front of me. I must have been flying because I caught the pair before the bottom of the descent. As we entered the trails a short distance later, I took the front position and soon noticed that I had a slight lead over Dwayne and Patrick. But a few miles down the trail, shortly after checkpoint two, Patrick caught me again before heading up the Bull Mountain Trail. The initial part of this trail is super steep and was covered with big slick roots. I was able to create a gap over Pat on this section by riding the climb, when he was forced to run it. After creating this gap, I never saw another SS rider again and pretty much rode the last 70 miles of the course alone. 

The FG100 SS Podium
Getting the win at Fool's Gold was a much better way to end my NUE season than my "finish" at Shenandoah and it was also a great way to celebrate winning my fourth straight NUE Series SS Title.  Being able to ride many miles of awesome trails was a true pleasure and a great end of the season reward for me.  Yes, it was a long, roller coaster like season, but in the end, I couldn't be happier with how I persevered my ups and downs to win the series.  I need to say a big thank you to Salsa Cycles, Stan's Notubes, Topeak and TOP Gear Bicycle Shop for helping me get through it all to win the series this year.  

I've done the Fool's Gold race the past four years in a row and I must say the course layout and overall organization of the race this year was much better than any of my other previous attempts.  The trails were in great shape and a blast to ride, even when they did get wet.  Hats off to Eddie and Namrita O'Dea for putting together a championship worthy race!  

If you're curious to see what the trails were like at Fool's Gold, watch Thom Parsons' Fool's Gold 100 highlight video below and you'll see how much fun they are.

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Photo Credit: gregridestrails

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