Friday, September 20, 2013

Those Who Seek Shall Find: Fools Gold first hundy

Leah Mitcham and Me before the start
Last year I decided to test the waters of endurance racing. It was my first season training with TotalCyclist coach, Luke Sagur. Anyone who knows Luke not only knows what an incredible cyclist he is himself, but they also know that he has a way of empowering people and making them believe they can conquer anything. After completing Jerdon Mountain Challenge and Fool's Gold 50 last year, I decided for 2014 I would go all out...Fool's Gold very first hundy. See, this is what happens when you're surrounded by cycling rock stars. You constantly push and challenge yourself to do get do better.

What's great about Fool's Gold is that the race venue is at Montaluce Winery and Estates in Dahlonega, GA, so the race course winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest. There are the usual gravel road climbs, but the single track is amazing. The best part is the swimming pool at the start/finish.

Although we were unable to snag the Scorpion House we rented last year, we still managed to find a cool little cabin close to the race venue. The Scorpion House was where Leah Mitcham got stung four times the night before Fool's Gold 2013. Who knew there were scorpions in GA. They're everywhere there! This year's house was dubbed The House of Poo because of the lovely smell of poop coming from the water (which later dissipated...a little).

Met some cuties at packet pickup

I never sleep well the night before a big race...especially if I'm away from home. After rolling around, getting startled by gunshots in the middle of the night and then rolling around some more, I was glad to finally hear my alarm go off at 4:30 am. By 6 am, we rolled into Montaluce Winery. It was still dark, and I made a mental note to bring a headlamp or flashlight if I returned next year, which reminded me that I had made the same mental note the year before and had forgotten.

The 100's were scheduled to start at 7am and the 50's would go 30 minutes after. The butterflies had already started to gather in my tummy...the usual times 100! I saw my coach and got a big hug and a pep talk. Then I rolled over to the start. I parked myself somewhere in the middle and realized this was the first race where I didn't know a single sole around me. Just as real panic started to kick in, my teammate Chris rolled up and gave me a hug & wished me luck. Then we were off!

The goal was to stay steady and to make sure I kept up with my nutrition. Garmin indicated that I had been out for 1:30, and so far I was doing a stellar job with both. All the sudden I feel a pat on my back and hear hootin and hollerin going on behind me. It's my teammate Chris and my coach a five man train of sheer speed and power...the lead group for the 50! All I saw was a blur of black and white with a bit of yellow (Chris' shoes) and hot pink (Luke's socks). I wasn't quite sure what just happened, but I was certain that was one of the coolest things I had ever seen! They had passed me like I was standing still!

I felt super strong for about 5 hours. I was relieved to know that the cold I had caught a couple of weeks earlier wasn't really dragging me down. My Infinit nutrition was doing its job, my bike was still functioning properly (thanks to the guys at Bicycle Sport) and I was listening to my jams. Hour 6 was when I noticed a drop in my energy level, and each hour after that I experienced a small decline. People told me it would happen, and I believed them. I was told that I would probably go to a dark dark place and to just keep fighting because it would pass. The problem was that this was the very first time I would experience such a feeling, and I had no idea exactly how dark this place was that I was heading towards...the dreaded unknown!

So there I was...hour 8. I had pedaled by ass to misery. Everything was hurting...most of all my hiney and my forearms (which felt like bloody nubs). While trying to stay on top of my nutrition, I may or may not have taken in too much. The once hard-core mountain biker that had sprouted wings had now morphed into a bloated billy goat. All I wanted to do was get off my bike, so I did.

I pushed my bike, for what seemed like an eternity, up some gravel. I went into deep thought about everything from chamois cream and how someone should add some kind of numbing agent into the ingredients to what kind of rat's nest my ponytail would be in when I was finished. That made me think about finishing and how I might not actually do it. I wished I could remember what the cutoff times were. Maybe I should have written those down somewhere. Maybe I should've worn a watch...hmmm bad road ID (which I wore in case I keeled over) was already rubbing a gnarly raw spot on my wrist. I was starting to accept that I might just have to quit early, which made my heart sink a little more.

Maria from Missouri & Me about to cross the finish
Just as I crested the top of a hill and turned the corner, I saw someone else (Maria from Missouri) pushing her bike. I'm sure we both had the same miserable look on our faces...hers from having not eaten enough and mine from having eaten too much! What a pair! We decided to stick together for the remaining 30ish miles. It was so nice to have a buddy with me. Maria and I just barely made the time cutoffs and were so relieved to know that we would definitely finish all 100 miles. As we pedaled closer to the finish, we were greeted by my awesome friends who cheered us all the way up the hill. How sweet of them to have waited for me! I was so happy to see their smiling faces, and crossing the finish was such an incredible feeling of accomplishment. With a final pedal stroke, all the pain and fatigue was gone in an instant.

They say while practicing yoga you'll find yourself...that you learn things about yourself because it's just you and your mat. As one of my instructors once said, "it's you sitting in your own shit (figuratively of course) with no one else to blame". When you have to hold a posture for 90 seconds, you figure out really fast that the only way to get through it is to be open your heart and your mind and find the calm and the stillness that will power you through. The same is true for racing 100 miles. It's just you and the bike. You find the power within yourself to get through each mile. I definitely found a lot more of myself out there. I found out that my body can do a whole lot more than my mind thinks it can. I found my chi on the mountain bike, and I certainly want to do it again...a few more times!

Terry Gleason and Me at the finish
Terry Gleason and Me after the finish
Thank you to our awesome sponsors: TotalCyclist, Mark Kane (Kane Training), Bicycle Sport, Giordana, Infinit Nutrition, Meg Art, Carolina Realty Advisors and OTR. Also, a very special thank you to Luke Sagur (such a fantastic coach). I could not have done any of this without your help.


  1. Awesome job Elsa! I loved reading your write-up. You're one of those cycling Rock Stars you mentioned! :)

  2. Congrats Elsa! It is a huge accomplishment to finish a 100 mile mountain bike race.