I opted to close my season out doing one of my favorite races on the calendar, the Ironcross Ultracross race in Michaux State Forest outside of Carlisle, PA. The race is fascinating to me, 70+ miles long, 7,000 ft of climbing, 300+ racers and a mix of road, gravel and technical single track and finish times in the 4-6 hr range. The course is always a little different but the majority of the interesting bits persist year to year. It's advertised as an "ultra cross" race and its timing during the year tends to draw a mix of riders from MTBs and ultracross specialists, to roadies dabbling in something different, along with different equipment types from pure cross bikes, to full suspension MTBs to every "Frankenbike" setup in between from those seeking the ultimate machine to tackle the unique event.
The course favors a combo of a big engine and good tech skills. There are 2 single track sections in the first 10 miles spaced out by some rolling pavement and fire roads. The key to success is to make it through these single track sections and connect with the lead group after the second section. Once the leaders know they have a gap, they will work together and ensure that no one but the most dedicated group will catch back on. Even with another 60 miles to go, if you don't make it with the leaders here, you are not going to win, period. If you are like me, and have a decent engine but are sorely lacking in tech skills and miss the leaders, your only chance is to work for as high a place as possible by keeping your foot in it and picking off stragglers as they get dropped from the main group.
This year, I was happy to make it with the first group through the first single track and hung tough until the second single track, and then unceremoniously got dropped like a bad habit. I worked with a few stragglers for a ways and eventually rode away from them and suddenly found myself very alone... And when I say alone, I mean I saw no one for miles, either ahead or behind me. I started wondering if I rode off course, but would soon stifle those concerns by seeing a course arrow. There were a few places where we went through check points, but the info provide by spectators was well meaning, but dubious as side of the road info tends to be. "20 up the road with 4 minutes", "15 up the road with 5 minutes", I just kept having this vision of a huge peloton cruising along pulling through and crushing me, and that was depressing. But I kept going, still seeing no one and hoping it was more like 1s and 2s spread out all over.
It went on like this for over an hour until finally someone caught me in the last single track section. I latched on as best as my lacking tech skills allowed and followed my new found friend with a little bump in morale to see SOMEONE even if he came from behind instead of me catching him. If he was that strong, it meant he would likely work and we could possibly catch more folks when the road opened up.
My morale boost was quickly dashed when I got a little carried away, and washed out the front wheel and crashed in a fast grassy section between 2 single track sections, completely taking out my front shifter and brake lever and leaving my bars in an awkward position. I as shaken a bit, but fortunately I was unhurt. My morale, however, just went out the window and I lost my new friend. With close to 3 hrs under my belt and another 20 miles to go, I seriously considered dropping out thinking I had a great excuse in hand. I had crashed, I considered it was unsafe to ride with a broken brake lever, I should just chalk it up to a racing incident, I told myself. As I was feeling sorry for myself and having this internal dialog, 4 or 5 guys passed me and I solider-ed on as there was no where to go but continue. There was no sag wagon, or anyone to hitch a ride with. Even to quit, you had no other choice but to keep going. After about 10 minutes and I cleared the last single track section, and an enthusiastically delivered beer hand up in my belly, I started to think differently. Most of the rest of the course was climbing, I really didn't need that big ring anymore any way. The few downhill sections I would lose some time on sure, but it would just give me more rest and I would hit the climbs harder. The bars were jacked up, but I could still find usable hand positions, suddenly it became a new challenge so I kept going. First of 2 long climbs remaining, I ended up catching and passing 4 guys, last climb, I caught 3 more and nearly caught a 4th, recapturing all the spots I lost post crash and then some. After all that, I ended up being 2nd in the masters race and 12th overall, my best finish ever at this event.
I could have easily gave in, but persistence paid off. Not quitting resulted in, well, a solid result even in the face of adversity. It doesn't always, and there are certainly times where discretion is the better part of valor, but if you get used to quitting races for smaller issues or when things don't go your way, it will be that much easier to do it every time whether in training or racing. So remember to stick with it! Whatever "it" may be! Thanks for reading.