The Vermont 50 has quickly become my favorite race on the calendar. I look forward to it all year even though I begin getting nervous when I get my email in May letting me know when registration is. Registering is half the battle as it sells out in 12 minutes. And there is a darn good reason that they sell out as the race is awesome!
This year like last year, I registered to race my singlespeed over this mountainous terrain but this year I actually lined up on it. Last year, as I got close to race day I decided that 50 miles with over 8,100 feet of climbing was not something I could do with one gear. So I raced my geared full suspension bike- and as I passed hurting single geared riders I knew I needed to come back and race this thing proper.
So this year I trained hard on my singlespeed- and as we live in the flats of New Jersey that meant a lot of lonely hill repeats- on the road and on dirt. I was feeling awesome and really digging my bike and my new found love for my Absolute Black Oval Ring- I was using a bigger gear than ever and climbing better than I had ever climbed. And then it hit me…
While riding to race Rockleigh I began having a horrible pain shooting down my leg- so bad that I couldn’t pedal my bike for about a week and a half. I was stressed that this might not only derail my training but also not allow me to make it to the race.
Turned out my right cleat had shifted on my commuter and training cycling shoes. I was reminded to look at them prior because they were getting warn but never got around to it so I was probably training with them like this for a bit. Mental note to check your cleats from time to time. Hard intervals place a lot of pressure on them.
So I got off the bike and worked hard at correcting the problems- I was going to race and the only way to get to the start line was to get strong off the bike. And this was so hard to do. I shut my mouth (or tried to) and listened to coach Joe- I hiked, worked out and got myself healthy. And then I slowly ramped back up on the bike and in no time I felt 100%.
I had thought going into this race that I would shoot for a top 10 and be a happy camper- but as you will soon find out I underestimated what was possible.
Just like last year, I drove up the night before and laid down in a hotel bed for 4 hours and maybe got 5 minutes of actual sleep. I was at the starting line for check in at 5:10…and yes it was dark and a chilly 37 degrees. The sun wasn’t going to be up for at least an hour into my 6:00 race start. So my sleeves, knees and lights came out for the first time this year.
The start was fast but I think I missed the first group off the front but since only half the riders had lights it was hard to tell who was singlespeed and who was an Expert (with gears). The start is a roll out to a hill and then another hill- so the climbing hits you hard and fast. I thought that I was passed by about 5-10 singlespeeds at the start but I just settled into my own pace. While climbing the long dirt roads (felt just like my Bear Mountain hill repeats the week prior) I was able to put in some big efforts and hold my own. Last year I wrote off not being a climber...I might be changing my stripes.
The geared riders were slowing me down for the most part (reason to get out front). I made sure to use my strengths at every chance I had, so I slammed all the singletrack and hammered all the long climbs.
As the temps were cool I was able to get away with only stopping at two rest areas (out of ~10). The first one I stopped at was at mile 27 to have my bottles refilled and then at around 37 to grab a few salt tablets as I had a little cramping. What I didn’t know was that even though I believed that I only passed a few other singlespeeds, my ability to not stop and just keep going was a huge plus. Last year I felt like I didn’t push hard enough with 20 to go as I was worried about the next hill to hit but this year I had an idea of the course. So my plan was to just go at 20 and leave it all out there. I tucked on every downhill and grabbed every wheel that could pull.
As we came over the top of the ski mountain I knew that a time of sub 5 hours would be a huge accomplishment and would knock off 26 minutes from last years’ time. I hooked up with 4 other riders who all had this same goal in mind. And we flew down the mountain- like skiers on a slalom run. I got in at 4:58!
That was good enough for 5th in open singlespeed.
And 5th is not good enough when 3rd was only 4 minutes ahead of me…
This year I said top 10 – next year I’m going for top 3- a podium spot.
Time to thank the people who got me to this and many other finish lines over the course of the year.
Thanks to the Team/Commuters-once again you guys/gals are a great crew to ride with each and every day- and I do hope that one day you all finally do understand what "Evan slow" actually is…
And to Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness who makes me suffer and at the same time tells me to just enjoy the ride. You make me work hard and I get to reap the benefits of that hard work. The knowledge and the trust in what you do allowed me to not only get back to pedaling my bike when I thought I was done but to race my bike and enjoy every moment of it.
And last but not least I thank my wife- who allows (puts up with) my racing and training. Getting up at 5:00 to ride to the trails in the dark to get in an extra hill or two makes for weird bedfellow.