The Hardest Day I've Ever Had - Part 1 of 3


Jan 30, 2012
Cary, NC
This is a 3-part series I'm writing for our blog. I figured I'd share it with some other racing junkies.

Some days are hard. What an understatement. We all have them though. There’s no getting around them, no avoiding them, no putting them off. Sometimes you can see a hard day coming. Sometimes it sneaks up on you and stops you dead in your tracks. And there are only two choices you have when you reach a hard day: you can lie down and quit, or you can put your head down, harden up, and push through it. This is the story of the hardest day I’ve ever endured.

I’d gotten into mountain biking as a teenager, but I only rode recreationally for several years. It wasn’t until college that I really got into the sport. I bought my first serious mountain bike–a Kona Muni Mula–on eBay upon the recommendation of a friend, and I was immediately hooked. My riding progressed over the years, and I eventually found myself pursuing endurance racing. I wasn’t fast enough to be competitive, but I enjoyed pushing myself to see what my body could handle. I’d completed a few 6-hour races in central NC, and I started looking around for something bigger. Something harder. That’s when I found Swank 65, a 65km mountain bike race that covered over 9000ft of elevation gain on some of the gnarliest trails in Pisgah National Forest. A coworker and I decided to take it on, so we registered, trained, prepared, obsessed, and trained some more for the next several months.

When race day came, it was bittersweet. I’d worked so hard for this. I’d had other things going on over the course of that summer/fall, but Swank had always been in the back of my mind. Standing on the starting line, chatting with the other racers, the day felt oddly un-ceremonial. Wasn’t I supposed to feel nervous? Where were all the people? Where was the noise? The hoop-lah? The formalities? Truth be told, Swank 65 was a group of ~200 people standing in a small clearing of Pisgah on a cold November morning, waiting for someone to tell us we could get on our bikes. The world was not watching. They were busy going about their lives. It was just us, our bikes and vast wilderness.

I’d done plenty of training (distance, speed and hill-repeats) for the race, but one thing I hadn’t done was ride in the mountains. Stupid, I know. In retrospect, I have no idea what I was thinking. I had looked at the elevation chart a hundred times, but I couldn’t fathom what an 8-mile climb felt like. I couldn’t even begin to wrap my mind around it. So for the first several miles of the race, I just settled into a pace line that felt comfortable and tried to push the one thought to the back of my consciousness that had haunted me for months: Farlow Gap.

Surprisingly, the first 10 miles went by more quickly than expected. I cruised into Rest Stop 1 fresh, happy, cocky. I grabbed a quick bite, some Coke and pedaled out for my first sizable climb. I don’t remember the distance of that climb, but it was only a few miles up a moderately sloped forest road. There were even some false flats to let my legs recover. I reached the top feeling winded and a little fatigued, but I decided to push on without a break. What a mistake.