After living in Gratiot County for more than a decade now I decided to give the Ithaca endurance race a shot for the first time. The Jailhouse trail is special because it is where I first jumped into racing as a 14 year-old. I think the 14 & under race only did one lap back then, but it hooked me.
A few weeks ago a group of us rode a few laps out there - my first laps on that course this season. Then I found out the race course for the endurance race would be run backwards from what we did during practice. Ithaca is so twisty the first lap of the race yesterday was full of surprises.
Since this was my first jump into endurance racing I had a lot of questions going into yesterday's event. Fortunately between Wayne Cook, Chris Maltby, Mike Seaman, and a few other locals you have about a billion hours worth of endurance tips and tricks that would help out.
There were five racers in the solo 6-hour 29 & under group. The race started and we quickly caught the tail end of the team category racers that started a minute in front of us. That first lap was a bit sketchy - you were always coming up on racers and the backwards lap took me a bit to dial in. Previous to the start, Wayne suggested I try to get six laps in before making a stop. After five I was out of water so in going through the pits I snagged two bottles and another mini Clif bar. I wanted to delay a longer stop as long as I could without getting myself into trouble.
Rolling through after more than three hours of racing I saw Kristie and Grace had made it out after Grace's post-lunch nap. I took the opportunity to sit for a minute, eat a sandwich, and drink a slim fast. I was probably off the bike for 6 or 7 minutes. In retrospect that was a bit long, but it was great to stop for a second and hang out with my family.
But I jumped back onto the trail with over 3 and a half hours of racing in the bag but I knew something was awry. My legs were starting to twinge a bit, meaning that if I didn't back things off I would be hard pressed to even finish the race. In doing so the 2nd place rider caught and passed me, and before I knew it he had a HUGE gap. I know I wasn't going that terribly fast, but he put a lot of distance between us in a very short amount of time.
One thing about endurance racing is that you have to be smart about when you pit, what you take at your stop, and how long you stay in the pits. I think for a 12-hour race you have a bit more freedom in the length component, but a 6-hour race is pretty tight if you want to compete for the win.
With under an hour to go I was still feeling cramps when I would push it too hard, so it was a balancing act between racing and recovering for the last hour. I crossed the finish line at 5:57, meaning there was room for one more lap. Figuring the guy in front of me went for a final lap meant I would also be pushing for one more. The gap at this point was ballooning and it was by far my slowest lap. I ended up crossing the line about 7 minutes back from first, completing 16 laps in 6:23.
There was even a pair of 12-hour racers doing the race on cyclocross bikes. After 6 hours solo my shoulders were wrecked - I can't imagine endurance racing on 33c tires. Maybe they were just getting their bikes acclimated to the altitude before bringing them back in a few weeks for the Ithaca GP?
Jack Kunnen already has photos up here.