I conquered the Iceman. But really I felt like the Iceman beat me up.
The day before the race, it was cold, and we got our first snowfall of the year. Not much stuck to the ground, but I still worried about what the trail would look like. Fortunately, despite all signs, the weather forecasters were right, and Saturday was a sunny day with a high around 40 F.
I arrived at the race start and found my wave of women aged 18-34. Most of us had never ridden the race before. Then with the announcers joking about not getting this group's ages wrong and betting on who would blow the first kiss to the video camera as we rode by, wave number 41 was off and running.
I'm sorry I didn't take pictures out on the course, because it was a beautiful ride pedalling through the forests of northern Michigan. Rays of sun shone through the trees onto a dusting of autumn snow along the trail.
But as beautiful as it was out there, it was also challenging. The first half of the course actually rolled by pretty smoothly. The trail itself followed some two tracks, some dirt roads and some single track. Most of it was sandy - mostly packed down with a few tire sucking pits of loose stuff. Then came the single most prominent feature of the rest of the race...mud.
It started with a long, slick stretch of deep, dark mud through a tight forest section. Everyone just seemed to move through it in whatever way they could - on bike, on foot...as long you kept moving forward. Then those muddy stretches became more frequent. Long, steep hills became populated by dozens of racers hiking their extra heavy, mud-laden machines up one step at a time. Derailleurs got mucked up and wouldn't shift. Brakes got slick and wouldn't grip. Cleats got clogged and wouldn't clip in.
It was slow going and exhausting, but at least we were all in it together. All 4000 riders trudging through the same sludge. I guess that's what you get from a warm day after the year's first snow. Veteran riders said that the course was worse than it has been in 5 or 6 years. I'll bet that no course records were set this day!
With 9 miles to go, I texted the hubby to let him know that I would be taking A LOT longer than I had expected.
With 6 miles to go, I started repeating montras to myself. Just keep moving. I can do this. I'm awesome. I'm going to finish the Iceman. But let me tell you...those were the longest 6 miles of my life. Longer than any I've run.
With 5 miles to go, a fellow rider said..."We're almost there! You can do anything for 5 miles, right?!"
With 3 miles to go, I wanted to cry. I was so tired. My hip hurt when I hiked up the hills. Three miles seemed like forever. But I could also hear the loud speakers and the cheers of the finish line crowd in the distance. It had to be close.
With 1 mile to go, the cruel course designers took us through one more tire sucking stretch of muddy single track. Then finally, I broke out of the threes and into the long chute weaving around the campground that hosted the finish line. Spectators cheered and encoured every rider. This is the last hill! Go Icewoman! You've done it! A smile spread across my face. My hubby screamed his head off for me at one corner then ran across the park and screamed for me some more.
I made it up one small but impossibly steep ridge and rounded a corner to roll under the big arch that said I was victorious. I had made it. I rode from Kalkaska to Traverse City on a cool, northern Michigan afternoon. I was dead last in my age group with a time of 4:42:46, but I didn't care. I finished the Iceman.
My hubby let me shed a few tears on his shoulder and vent about how HARD but fun the ride had been. He parked my bike against a tree and bought me pizza and a regular Coke. That was the most delicious beverage I've ever had.
As the pain in my legs subsided, we watched the professional male riders finish. I don't know how they did it, but they flew.
Then, as we left Traverse City to return to our hotel in Kalkaska (to soak in the glorious hot tub), we looked out over Lake Michigan. We have a beautiful state to ride in.
It was a challening, satisfying race. But I'm glad it's done!