Cohutta 100 review

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Well, my first big race, the Cohutta 100, was a mixed success. While I didn’t finish (for reasons to be detailed below) I do feel I am stronger now than last year at this time- and the Cohutta100 is a completely do-able event for me, though I didn’t finish this year. I will be back next year with slightly different (wardrobe) strategy.

Strategy- nutrition, bottles and clothing:

I did pick right for my bottles/nutrition. The aid stations served Heed, my beverage of choice. So I decided to take two bottles of Perpetuem (for fuel) and only one bottle of Heed. I figured I could fill the Heed at the first aid station if I was low. Additionally, as I depleted my perpetuem, I could use that first empty bottle to fill a second Heed if needed. But with temperatures at 61degrees, I wasn’t getting overly thirsty, but sipBoldped steadily. I did deplete one bottle of Perpetuem in the first 50 miles of the race- exactly how I planned.
I did carry some of the snack sized Raw bars as well as single serve espresso- Hammergel. I also carried 20 Endurolyte tablets. I went through 10 of those in the first 50 miles, also exactly as planned. Considering the first half of the race was likely the hardest with the long muscle-stressing climbing, I think the number of tablets was good for the temperature. If the weather was hotter, I would likely want more Endurolytes.

Clothing– this is where my strategic decisions failed. I started with my base layer and jersey, arm warmers and leg warmers. I opted NOT to carry a rain jacket, though thunderstorms were predicted for the afternoon, because at 61 degrees I figured the temperatures would be okay and I thought the weather would hold until later in the afternoon that what actually occurred. More on this later…

The race started at the Ocoee Whitewater Center– home of the 1996 whitewater Olympic events. Very scenic and beautiful. The racers started at 700am up a 6-8% grade paved highway on the right lane and shoulder for nearly two miles after which a volunteer directed traffic into the trees. A short stretch and it was singletrack for the next 16 miles. This was some of the most technical and challenging singletrack I have ever ridden.
I let some faster riders go in ahead of me to the singletrack, then found some of them were slow in the technical sections. There were a dozen of us weaving wheel to wheel through the trail much slower than I could actually ride. After about a half hour of this, I requested a pass from the two riders in front and darted around them. I put a lot of distance from them and never saw them again until later in the race where the climbing became the key factor. Some other riders also passed them and caught me in the single track a few miles later as well. I did stop to take a couple photos in this first 16 miles. Hopefully they turn out on the disposable camera I had purchased.
This single track section was dotted with bridge crossings- and since it had rained the night before, the trail and wood on the bridges was wet and slippery- a situation familiar to any Michigan rider whose ridden or raced Addison Oaks or Stony Creek. As you know, one must ride across these wet muddy bridges and not make a turn on the wood- yet not one of the Cohutta bridges were you able to ride into the bridge straight on. I crossed all but the last one without incident. On the last, the back tire came out from under me but I was able to put my left foot down and keep from falling.
I suffered my only “fall” in this section, really more of a slide-out, as I approached a rutted, eroded downhill I chose too late whether to go right down the middle or ride up on the top and the wheels slid out from under me to the right and I skidded on my left hip and elbow- no hurt, but I lost my bottle in the lower cage (more on the bottle cage later).
The photo inserted here is from the Cohutta race website- this “flat rock with water” section was really really cool- I rode it without incident.

 
 
 
 
Aid Station #1 ended the singletrack riding for the next 50-60 miles at approximately mile 18. I got to this 18mile marker in two hours, averaging 9mph in the singletrack. Had there not been so much traffic the first half hour or so, I could have ridden this section faster, but I suspect traffic will be there next year as well- it’s the nature of the mass start and pack hitting the trail the way it does.
What followed next after Aid Station#1 was 35-40 miles if incessant two-track jeep-road CLIMBING. Grades of 6-8-10% at least in many sections. Climbing is my weakest riding attribute and I knew going in based on the race profile this would be a difficult section. I used the granny gear often. My key concern was the constant stress would inflame my thigh/ITBand. So I endeavored to reduce stress by simply spinning in the easiest gear possible. I made it to Aid Station #2 at approximately noon for a 39 mile marker. The next aid station was about mile 49-50 (which I would reach at 130pm).
Here’s a graph of the elevation- I added the approx locations of the aid stations 1, 2, & 3

About a half hour after passing the second aid station, the sprinkling began and the wind picked up drastically. Up to now I had considered myself overdressed with the legwarmers, armwarmers and base layer. Not for long. Temperatures dropped about 10 degrees to 51 degrees and the rain began coming down in sheets. I was at high enough elevation that I was riding in the clouds (or fog) at times it seemed. The few downhills that occurred, which would have been fast descents, became treacherous riding with rivulets of water running down eroded cracks in the dirt, sheeting water coming down from the sky and visibility reduced to maybe 100 yards!
By my estimate, it would be approximately 1245-100pm, I was completely cold, my fingers gripping the handlebars like claws and I could barely get enough energy to my hands to shift. Luckily I can work my brakes with one finger (THE finger hahahah) so that wasn’t an issue. Another rider caught up to me and we rode together for a while, both voicing hope for the next aid station to be coming soon. He stated he was dropping out and was in survival mode. I stated I wouldn’t go past Aid Station #3 either. The cold was so deep I was shivering as I rode and the muscles and such in my legs were getting really tight from shivering. He rode on ahead and reached the station about 10 minutes ahead of me.
I reached Bubba’s Cabin (Aid Station#3) at 130pm. This was about (almost) the 50-mile mark. I’d reached the halfway point in 7-1/2 hours, riding 1-1/2 hours in cold drenching rain. Due to the climbing, I don’t think I would have been significantly faster, but had the weather held, I am confident I’d have reached this point by 100pm, at least. According to other racers and the volunteers, there was one more peak to climb- the last peak on the elevation graph- and then it’s much downhill followed by another significant singletrack section which the graph indicates is very much like the first portion. Judging from other rider comments, I think an 11hour goal is not out of reach for me on this event- at least in good weather.
Lesson’s learned and stategy for upcoming races and next year’s Cohutta100:
First, the bottle kept popping out of the lower cage on the rugged sections. If I use this for a spare bottle next year or later this year I am going to get a velcro strap made to lock the bottle in. I can then stop, unstrap the bottle and replace it with an empty or spare and re-strap it in.
Second, get a biking-backpack- one that cinches down good and doesn’t bounce around when riding technical sections. I don’t want to use a camelback. Even in hot weather the most I’d need is one more bottle (of Heed). But with a backpack, if there’s a HINT of inclement weather, I can pull over and get raingear on, put away extra gear if overheating, or have a spare jersey and gloves. (At Aid Station #3 I had contemplated going out again after I’d warmed up but my clothes were soaked and the wind chilled me immediately when I went outside and I shivered severely. A warm dry jersey may have been enough to get me to the finish yesterday. A rain jacket would definitely got me to the finish).
Some of these ideas will vary minutely depending on the course and weather. But I feel confident in my ability to complete the 100. I felt pretty good – in terms of strength and endurance even as I dropped out- the chill being the primary impediment this past race.
I will post a link to photos later as I get them developed. At one point I rode through a puddle and decided to photograph the next rider through so I got off the bike and aimed the disposable camera, two riders coming through, and I snapped the photo as the first rider exited the puddle- Danielle Musto! I couldn’t have planned that better! She was riding through on her way to a first place finish in the 65 mile version of the event.
I think I need a new chain- the chain skipped a bit on the rear cassette in the middle of the gears. I tightened the cable up the day before the race, but the skipping persisted. Not a show stopper- I knew it was skipping a couple weeks earlier but with Yankee to manage and work travel, I had zero time to get another chain and I did not want to make some equipment change I could not try out extensively before the 100 mile race. So minor chain skipping which I could accomodate- the devil I knew- was better than making a change and having greater issues from new equipment.

Dennis Murphy