Tuesday, April 5, 2011
I’m always excited about doing races that I have never done before. There are a lot of unknowns. The competition, course route, and trail features keep your mind going as you take in the new experience. This weekend’s race was the Dragon’s Tale, a 40 miler in the mountains around New Castle, VA. I’ve been wanting to do this race over the past couple of years, but there had always been conflicting races preventing me from going. Being run by Chris Scott, I knew this would be a quality, well organized, and fun event to start my season on the East Coast. Looking at the course profile I knew there would be a lot of climbing with two trips up a 1500’ singletrack climb followed by a long ridge ride and ending with two shorter climbs and descents after coming down from the ridge. The rolling start brought us a few miles outside of town where we turned off onto a fireroad where the race officially began. I stayed near the front and could not wait to get through the notorious stream crossing that I had been hearing about during my warmup. After 4 or 5 COLD stream crossings we came to the final crossing which was too deep to ride across with the water being knee high. I was glad to be on the other side where the fireroad began to pitch upward and as the climb continued I slowly began to warm up. As we climbed I almost forgot I was at Dragon’s Tale and not the Shenandoah 100 since the dirt road climb seemed identical. Climbing higher up I began to push the pace sensing that the singletrack was coming soon. Finally I reached aid station 1 where I grabbed a quick bottle and was the first one to start the big climb with Ian Spivack of DCMTB close behind. Early on in the climb I upped my pace and slowly pulled away reaching the top alone. Once on top of the mountain I had wished that I had some time to stop, relax and take in the view. Looking out from the top of the ridge was a beautiful site of the Southern Virginia mountains, but with no time for site-seeing I continued across the ridge a short distance before descending back to the fireroad. The trip back down was a blast ripping through switchbacks, hopping over rocks and letting myself flow over the trail. By the time I reached the bottom I was refreshed and ready to climb again. I grabbed two more bottles at the aid station and hammered up the climb with the same effort as I had the first time, but towards the top I started to notice some fatigue as I was forced to walk a couple of the steep switchbacks that I had ridden the first time up. Once back up on top the course followed the ridge out in the opposite direction for 12 miles before descending to the next aid station. I had really underestimated this section of trail. Being on top of the mountain I expected to encounter more gently rolling terrain, but most of the time it was either steep, rocky, or a combination of the two. After laboring twice up the big climb this part of the race was the most challenging, but the amazing views made it worthwhile. Towards the end I was hoping that each downhill would be the one that would take me back to the bottom of the mountain and once I made it there I was treated to one really great descent. Once at the bottom I filled up my bottle before leaving the last aid station and pushed on for the last six miles. Right out of the aid station it was back to climbing again. Although it wasn’t as long as the first climb it was much steeper and more difficult due to fatigue. Towards the top it got steep and rocky, so I decided to play the “no dab” game and try not to put a foot down. After a hard effort I successfully made it to the top without walking and hit the next downhill with a smile on my face. I pushed on for one more short and steep climb and then finally hit the last downhill which led to a dirt road which would soon turn to pavement leading to the finish. I rolled into the finish alone in 3:45:00 and took my first win of the season. I was completely satisfied with my new race experience and plan on making it a regular visit on my early season schedule.