Written by Rachel Brown Saturday, 15 August 2015 00:00
The Hampshire 100 is one of New England’s endurance mountain bike events. It started out as a 100k race. Then a few years ago they added a 100-mile option for the very fit or very sadistic (or both). This year, a “kinder, gentler” option was added too: 50k. The usual 100k loop was shortened to a 50k loop; 50k riders would do it once, 100k riders twice, and 100-milers three times.
The Hampshire 100 also has another unique feature: the “Hampshire Hardcore” category. To be eligible, a racer has to race (and finish) the 100k or the 100 mile five years in a row. Now, since one gets a whole year to recover in between races, there is an argument to be made that it isn’t really much more hardcore to do this thing 5x than once, but Hampshire Hardcore is nevertheless coveted by me because it’s within reach. This year was my 4th consecutive race at the H100 and to be honest, if I hadn’t needed to maintain the “hardcore streak,” I probably would have skipped this year.
I would have skipped it because I haven’t focused much on racing this year, and the racing I have done has been relatively short. I’ve had another focus: along with apparently half of Boston (as evidenced by the popularity of creative writing classes), I’ve been working on writing a novel. When you’re trying to write a novel, you are awed by novelists—they are the ones who have beaten the odds and realized that dream. For me, as a long-time bike racer, bike racers haven’t had that mystique for a while: or, more accurately, while I can be amazed by those riding and racing at a much higher level than me, those at more or less the same level don’t produce the same reaction—on the theory that if I can do it, it can’t be all that hard.
Except, as I was rudely reminded as I attempted the H100 based on “training” that consisted of little more than commuting (ok, it’s a long commute) and a few much shorter cross-country races, it IS hard. I managed the H100, but it wasn’t pretty. I was under-trained and under-fueled; I struggled. I’m not sure I physically could have done a 3rd lap for 100 miles (fortunately, you don’t need to do it to be “Hampshire hardcore”). So, my cycling friends, take a moment to congratulate yourself on where you are as a bike racer, or rider. Maybe it’s not the noblest thing in the world, but it does take serious commitment, training, and skill. Those are not things you develop overnight. As illustrious and elusive a dream as novel writing is to many, so is racing, to others. I felt on the fringe of fitness for the H100 this year; I haven’t been on that fringe for a while and it was a good place to be: it reminded me that having the stamina and strength to do these long, grueling races is actually kind of amazing.
Back to the race itself, it started, as the H100 always does, fast. There are several miles of road and fire road to begin. Of course, knowing that you have a good 7, 8, 9? hours of racing ahead, this is a time to settle into a steady pace and not overextend, right? No, because you’re drafting. Even though you’re drafting at a pace you absolutely can’t sustain, you’re still drafting, which is irresistible. Who knows whether there will be any other chances to draft of this course? Better stick with it! Until you pop off, depleted after a half hour, and wonder what you were thinking. So that is how the H100 started for me, as it does every year. Then the riders thin out, and things settle down. This year I was a bit on edge though: the course had changed and where was the singletrack?? We had got to mile 17, MILE 17, and there had only been a couple of brief stretches. But then it all changed. Miles 17 through 34 (the loops is actually about 34 mi) were pretty much ALL singletrack, mostly rad and awesome singletrack to boot. Now that’s obviously the most fun part of mountain biking, but it’s a long way to ride the sweet stuff. Needless to say, I doubt there were many negative splits on the two halves of that course!
On the first lap, I wasn’t in a very good place mentally. I was feeling a bit out of my depth (see above!), and the course was pretty crowded for a while, so it was hard to settle into a groove. The thought, which I harbored for some time, that I might have been better off on my cyclocross bike, did not please me either. But, things improved as the riders spread and the true mountain biking began; I felt glad my ‘cross bike had stayed home. The second lap, I felt fantastic for a while. The first half of the lap became a welcome break after all that slow pedaling, and the singletrack at around miles 17-20 (which IMO was probably the most fun section of the course) passed euphorically. But then trouble started. By this time I was already somewhere between 6 and 6.5 hours in, and my body thought that was quite enough. Pedaling up hills of any degree fell somewhere on the spectrum of unpleasant to unthinkable. (Did I mention that H100 is hilly? 7 or 8k of climbing a lap, with some unreasonably steep pitches.) It doubtless did not help that I attempted the next 2 hours on one meager water bottle on a very hot, sticky day. (There was some confusion on my part about the location of aid stations…)
I finally crawled back to base camp 8:45 hours after I’d started. My previous three H100s were all an hour or more quicker than that, so the new course and lack of training had taken their toll. Astonishingly, since I had witnessed at least 3 women in my category ride away from me earlier never to be seen again, they called me in for 2nd place. I figured it was an error, but learned that several riders, including some from my category, had been DQed for missing (inadvertently) a turn that apparently shortened the course 4 or 5 miles. That was a bittersweet, as my friends Tracy and Loren looked to be having brilliant races and it would have been nice to see them rewarded. But, I did get a sweet sweatshirt, which I look forward to wearing, hopefully several months from now...
No Bikeman gear on the podium because it took me by surprise!
Stay tuned: One more year to hardcore status!!
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