Assault on Marion

Mark called me last week and asked if I would be interested in doing the Marion race last minute. I was more than happy to oblige him, because I had considered the race a month ago after finishing the Isaqueena ride, but had never really made a decision. By the way, I found out that the Marian race and the Mt. Mitchell race are the same thing. I did not know that previous to about 48 hrs ago.

We went over to Spartanburg Memorial auditorium on Sunday afternoon to register and pick up our packets. I was race number 1446, so I assume I was nearly the 1500th person to register. (That is for the Marion race, the Mitchell guys had a different set of numbers.)

I arrived at 6:00 Monday morning, although I had every intention of being there by 5:45, I arrived at 6 nonetheless. Mark is an exclusive MTB, and had borrowed a bike from a friend, which he had brought home Sunday night at 10:00. Needless to say, we had to do some adjusting with the seat and handlebars to get a proper fit, and hope for the best as far as derailleurs adjustment was concerned. I had decided to try out my "new" Trek 1200, which I posted about last week, and take it out for a long ride. By the time Mark and I got our bikes set up, we made it to the line with 4:00 left on the countdown clock. Perfect.

The start was slow, and some poor soul had a flat less than a block from the start line... but eventually the train got moving. Mark and I jumped on a group of about 10 riders weaving through the mass, and passing people. Lots of people! Man we were flying! My computer on the new Trek looked really cool, but it was completely dead... even with a brand new battery... so I have no idea how fast we were moving. But I was amazed that no matter how many people we passed, the long line of riders strung out ahead continued on and on.

Then, I realized that Mark had fallen off the back. I had a mirror to look back and see him from time to time, but apparently it vibrates too much at higher speeds to be of any good whatsoever. I had lost him. So somewhat begrudgingly I eased off the pace, pulled over to the right, and started letting riders go by knowing Mark would be only a group or two back. Not the case. I waited for one, two, then three big groups to pass me. This was not like Mark at all, was something wrong? Then he caught me. It took me a few seconds to jump back on pace after riding so slowly. When a big group comes by, you had better get your speed up, or you won't be able to jump in with them.

We took off again, this time I let him lead. When another 5 man group went ahead, this time he jumped on their wheel. The pace picked up, and as we took turns pulling I could feel the adrenaline kicking again. Man, I felt good today! There was one dude who felt he was calling the shots for everyone kept yelling "short pulls" then "get off and wrap around" I thought he was funny. Mark did not appreciate the extra encouragement. We moved along pretty well, but once again however, Mark fell off. After I dropped back this time he told me to meet up with him at the first stop at 20 miles in. So we did.

Problem was, only 6-8 guys total stopped at this first SAG. The rest went spinning along and left us there. Mark was feeling better, but he told me to not come back for him if we got split up again.

3 miles later Mark was no longer. He told me later that his legs just continued to cramp again and again, and he just couldn't seem to fight it off. Too bad, because Mark is a great rider - typically very strong as well. I rode alone for a while, picking off riders from time to time, then saw a group of 4 up ahead that were really working well together. I pushed it about as hard as I could to catch this little pack, and was rewarded for when I caught them. They pulled strong, and took long turns each, so by the time it was my turn to pull, I had gotten my wind back.

Side note; I found it to be very encouraging when I would lead out, then someone what say "nice pull" when I fell off. That little bit really is motivating... so consider me as a guy who says: "nice pull" from now on.

At mile 40 - 50 (as I said before, I do not have a working computer) there was a dead stop for everyone. Apparently no one told the DOT that we were having a race today. They had stripped an entire stretch of road down, and were only letting traffic through every 10 minutes or so. This was awesome for someone like me who suddenly was in the main pack again. But man, some of these riders were really ticked! They were yelling obscenities at the steamroller guys (very effective) and trying to pass dump trucks to skip the detour altogether (also very effective).

This changed the whole race for me. After a SAG about 10 miles later, we climbed Bill's hill. I was feeling really strong, and passed people all the way up. My concerns about racing with a double instead of a triple seemed to be of no concern at all. My concerns about having down-tube shifters had long been dispelled. I was riding this thing strong!

I was under the impression that after Bill's hill the race would be flat. I was mistaken. I lost much of my new confidence over the next series of hills, and found myself hoping that this all would be over soon. After a quick SAG with 17 mi to go, I was able to hold on to a pack of 6-8, and we pressed on home the rest of the way. I felt great, I finished under 4 hrs, ride time of 3:40, but the entire pack I had ridden the last 20 miles with only stopped for a few minutes before continuing on to the top. Not me, not this year. Today I was finished!

Now all I had to do is wait for Mark to come in...


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