In each of the past two years after Ironcross, I tell myself I’m going to prepare better for it. Do some mountain centuries, take longer rides more frequently, etc. I didn’t do it this year, but I had a decent excuse; I didn’t ride much in August due to back problems.
Still, I had a good Ironcross, managing a new personal best. I even felt like I could have done better; I was on pace to do so until the third checkpoint and the huge climb, then it was lights out. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
Marco, Rob and I made great time Saturday, stopping for a great Italian dinner at Mamma Ventura’s in downtown Gettysburg, though Rob kept joking about his Stouffer’s ziti and, while Marco loved his chicken, he seemed more interested in the pastry chef/waitress’s cannoli. We got to the hostel, met up with the rest of the Tripower contingent, watched a little of “300,” then hit the cots. And laid there wide awake. That dorm-style sleeping is cheap, but I just don’t sleep well. I guess I got a little over four hours of shuteye.
Up and out the next morning, it was chilly, but not brutally cold like last year. I lined up with Marco, J “I Don’t Snore” B and Art, but picked my way up through the field on the lap of the cyclocross course. Once we got onto the bike path, I latched onto the tail of a group of 20 riders and enjoyed the tow until we hit the beach where the group shattered. I stayed upright and on the bike and got out onto the first road climb, spinning easy so as not to toast my legs early. Rode the ridge’s gravel road with another group and stayed with them through the next road section to the base of the King of the Mountain climb. Here again, I went at my own pace. Back on the ridge road, I caught on a small group with two NCVC riders. Turning on the rocky, single-track Lippencote Trail, I stayed on one guy’s wheel and rode most of the section except for the biggest log crossings and the final steep, rocky chute. It’s amazing how the cross bike handles the gnarly stuff. We passed a bunch of people through there.
Back out on the road, we caught Stephen the Manimal and traded pulls, hammering down Route 30, then climbing up 233. Both dropped off my wheel after we turned onto the gravel climb up to the reservoir and the powerline crawl-up. At the base of the crawl-up I pulled off my wind vest and Stephen caught me. Many question why they’re doing the race and the cruelty of the organizers during the crawl-up, but this year it seemed shorter to me. Perhaps I just found the right rhythm for the climb, but up I went without stopping.
I rolled into the second checkpoint in just under two hours, grabbed a couple of energy bars and headed back out for the fast gravel road sections. I flew along until we got to the double-track climb to Ridge Road. I started to suffer a bit on that climb. Still I held my own and felt like I was on a good pace. Another ridge, then a turn onto Thompson Hollow Road for the screaming gravel descent. I felt great and was flying down the road when my left contact dried and slipped out of my eye. I had to stop in one of the steepest sections. Maybe 20 people rolled by as I managed to get it back in, but it kept hurting. When I pulled into checkpoint 3, I rinsed my hands and pulled the contact out. It was torn, so I had to ride the final 20 or so miles with only one good eye, which made it very hard to read the gravel in the shade and the single-track. It was also at this checkpoint that the eventual women’s winner caught and passed me.
Pulling out of the checkpoint, the Hogshead Road turns skyward climbing endlessly at 15 to 20 percent. I was in my smallest 39×32 gear, grinding upward at 4 miles per hour or so. It hurt. I was a little nauseous from not seeing like I normally do. Rider after rider came by me, including one insane fellow on a fixed-gear cross bike who eventually finished in about 4:50. The second-place woman caught me, but I kept her in sight and stayed with her to the top of Hogshead, up the nasty headwall climb of Woodrow Road and down the scary descent to checkpoint 4, where the long single-track section begins.
As I rolled into the checkpoint, I nailed a pothole hard and not far into single-track my rear wheel felt soft. I stopped, but it wasn’t flat just soft. I should have stopped and changed the tube, but instead I tried to pump it up. I got it from 20 to 30 pounds, but snapped the nipple off. Oops. Still it was holding those 30 pounds, so I soldiered on.
I was tired and I couldn’t really see the trail clearly. I pedaled squares in a low gear, unable to spin up a higher pace. Again rider after rider came by. I paid the piper here for the lack of long rides and climbing in my training regimen. I carried the bike and walked it a lot more on the later climbs than I did last year when I felt better prepared. As I slogged up one such climb I saw a photographer and shouldered the bike and jogged a few steps. I must have been delirious.
Back out on the road for the final miles, the soft rear tire really slowed me down. One rider blew by me. Then a woman in a Trek Team jersey passed me on the final climb and I followed her all the way into the line.
I finished in 5:09, 10 minutes faster than my best time from two years ago. The rest of the team did great. Crazy came in 14th, clocking a 4:14! The Dingo rode 4:30. Tim and young Mark weren’t far behind him. Stephen, Art, Marco and Grizzly McMahon were hot on my heels. Marco was about six minutes behind me. Not bad at all for the first time and not really training. He must be able to climb or something. The ladies all rolled in not far behind them. Single-speed Rob and JB finished in just under 6 hours, I think. Poor BillG though cut his tire and DNF’d.
Next year, I go under five hours. Only 12 months and counting.