Landmine is a New England classic. Located in Wompatuck state park in Hingham, MA just south of Boston makes it geographically desirable for lots of people, me included. September also happens to be the best month of the year weather wise. Being part of the Rt. 66 series helps too. In fact this year it was the series final. Chris and Jill Logan put a ton of work and effort into this series and they deserve a lot of credit for that, Thanks you guys!
One of the interesting twists offered at Landmine is the Marathon class. This is 2 laps of the 25 mile loop. It doesn't sound that bad, but anyone who knows mountain biking, knows that 50 miles on a mountain bike in the woods is a BIG day. Not to mention the fact that Wompatuck is seriously boney with less dirt every year between the rocks and roots. There's also a fair amount of punchy climbs and plenty of physicality reqiured to maneuver the trails without losing momentum. I talked to a few guys about the marathon option and they seemed to think the regular 1 lap cross country race was a smart choice with cyclocross season right on the horizon. Indeed it would have been a smart choice. I'm not smart.
On the line for the start of the marathon I couldn't believe how many guys were lined up for a 50 mile, hard, boney, mountain bike race. It seemed like we had 35 or 40 guys. There was even a big group of cat 2,3 racers waiting to go just after our start. Several cat 2, 3 women raced the marathon distance. That is AWESOME! In total there were 475 racers there for one race or another on the day. That is huge! I love when mt. bike races have that kind of attendance (Weeping Willow in Ipswich comes to mind too). If there was a race like this every weekend all summer, I'd never go to a road race. Well thats probably not true either, cuz I loves me some good road racing and crit racing. Anyway, it was awesome to see so many people jazzed up for a mountain bike race.
At the whistle I took off like a shot practicing my cyclocross race start. We shot around the perimeter of the field that served as a parking lot and into the woods. I got to the woods first and kept the gas on all the way til we turned right into the singletrack. Shorty we came out to a section of pavement and I had a look to see who was there. There was CCNS rider on my wheel and then John Burns. That was it, the selection had been made....for now. The CCNS rider took to the front a little agressively and led for quite a while, he was pretty much drilling it and I knew it was pretty fast for a 50 miler. My intention had been to get separation and then ride a more controlled pace. He eventually made a mistake and threw his chain in a turn, and John took to the front. He was going just as hard so I just kept following. Eventually the CCNS rider got back, but it took a while, then he started to get gapped off here and there and soon he was off for good. John was steady with his power output weather it was uphill, technical, cart road or pavement. He was riding really well. He didn't ask me to pull through, he didn't attack, he didn't push the pace if I made a mistake but just kept doing his thing. Smart and steady.....and FAST.
The last 6 or 7 miles of lap 1 were a joy. I felt good, and had become super comfortable riding behind John. I took different lines in lots of places and they all worked out OK. Other times I followed directly. I was actually surprised when we popped out onto the field and we were half way done. Lap 1 was 1:51. We both stopped for new bottles and carried on our way. I told him to keep leading if he wanted since he was setting such a good tempo, he took right to it. About 15 minutes later I got a big warning sign. On a section where I clicked out to dab a foot for a balance check, I felt a cramp twinge through my right hamstring. Crap! It wasn't a full blown cramp, but it was definitely pulling and I was starting to feel them more and more throughout the legs. I was in a serious pre-cramped condition. I can actually ride for hours like this if it's just pedaling, but when it's technical rock gardens and I have to exert all of my leg strength at times, it isn't gonna be pretty for very long.
I guess we were about half way through the lap and it happened. We were passing lots of lappers and at the base of a rocky climb I had to dismount when I couldn't complete the pass that John had made. I had to hop off and the cramp pulled hard on the hamstring, it wasn't quite crippling yet, so I carried on. I wasn't really trying, but after a few minutes I managed to get back up to John. I honestly think he felt bad that the gap had formed because of a lapper and sort of eased up for me.
A little while later we both dismounted on another climb and when I went to remount....Jackpot! Full blown major siezure of my right hammy. I couldn't do a thing. I couldn't make it go away. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't even see. It felt like someone had cut into my leg and clenched a pair of vice grips onto my hamstring muscles and then twisted agressively. Gawd it was awful! John was now gone for good, and I wondered if I was gonna have to walk out, or worse. Finally after a couple minutes of clutching onto a tree I was able to get up on a rock and sort of bring the bike beneath me. I pedaled with my left leg and shook out the right. I eventaully got it clipped into the pedal and could pedal easy. It worked itself out and went away for the time being, but I still had a long way to go. I went directly into survival mode. I didn't know how much of a gap we had, but I knew it was pretty big, but that I probably just lost most of it with that little episode.
Everything was going downhill inside my legs, which sucked because I still felt reasonably good everywhere else. It was amazing how differently I had to deal with some sections compared to 2 hours ago and a lap earlier. In yet another rocky section, I had a similar issue with my left hamstring. I was clutching away at it, when one of the lappers I just passed came up. I was tilting my head back with my eyes clenched shut, but I could hear him. I said "can't move, can't move", because I knew I was in the way. Again I lost a bunch of time, but eventually was able to carry on again. This was getting grim and I was ready to stop. I was pleased to come by the aid station and I thought it was pretty close to the end from my memory of the 1st lap. I came out onto the last road section and was actually feeling a little better after slowing down so much and also getting more gatorade in. At the top of the asphalt climb, I decided to look back. Not 50 meters behind me was my teamate Alec Petro, and he was crushing the pedals with me in his sights. Alec probably has more endurance than anyone in the field. I was glad it was my teamate, but of course we both wanted to beat eachother. The last section after entering the woods is 2 miles of pretty sweet singletrack. I knew the trail pretty well here and decided I'd just drill it until I cramped or crashed or finished. The new shot of adrenaline seemed to help me ignore the existing cramp issues and it was race on!
It turns out that right when Alec got me in his sights he broke his shifter, leaving him with only the little cog on the casette. I gapped him off a little only to crash when I crossed wheels with a lapper in sight of the field. That poor guy must have been like "What the heck, the finish is right there and you're riding like a maniac". I got it back together and luckily didn't cramp again. I went out onto the field and crossed the line TWO SECONDS ahead of Alec for 2nd place. Almost 4 hours of racing and we're friggen sprinting it out at the line. Unbelievable. I was thrilled to get 2nd place, because I wasn't gonna beat John no matter what.
When the results went up I was scored in 3rd about 20 seconds behind Greg Jancaitis. I knew this was wrong because no one ever passed me. I went over to Jill Logan and explained the situation to her. She said she'd track down Greg (who I've never even met) and see what was up. I went to my car and got some food. When I came back Jill waved me over to the table where she was talking to Greg. She had already told him what I had said. He just said, "I passed you when you were clutching at your hamstring in that rock garden". TALK ABOUT EMBARESSING! I just said "Oh shit, ya that was definitely me". I just put out my hand and said "nice ride". Greg was super cool about it, I think he saw my embarresment, and I felt like an idiot for saying "no one passed me". To further prove how good of a guy Greg is, he was one of the two riders that stopped to look after Roger Aspholm until help arrived, when he crashed in the Hampshire 100 a few weeks ago. Not thinking twice about his own race when a fellow athlete was injured. Thats as good as it gets in my book. Mountain biking is like that by and large. Everyone always looks to help out others in need.
So 3rd place overall. Oh well, still good to be on the podium with all the youngsters. Now it's on to the real season....Cyclocross.
See ya in the dirt, JB