Thursday, May 29, 2014

Transylvania Epic(TSE) 3 Day - What doesn't Kill you makes you, something something

I can say from experience the Transylvania Epic 3 day, is truly Epic, and was by far the hardest biking event I've ever ever done.  I was cracked many times, but kept riding, I nearly killed myself at least 2 times on the most rocky steep descents I would have hesitated to walk down, and I kept on going. I climbed until I was cracked and climbed some more until I was uncracked. I saw beautiful scenery that filled me with awe. I meet wonderfully passionate determined compassionate people we smiled and laughed and grunted and cursed as pushed ourselves farther than we thought we could go....  

The Crew - Me, Marty, Sue, and Neil, Josh NP

Setting the stage I had raced 2 weeks before at French Creek and crash in the start finish area. I hit a temporary course metal fence post that was a little close to the trail, my fault, but ended up tearing my leg open and taking 7 stitches. With the injury, my training before TSE was limited a bit, which was probably good considering the epicness of the stages.

We arrived at our house Saturday afternoon, kitted up and did a ride around beautiful State College. What a wonderful place and the day was perfect. We rode thru campus and the stadium, and then went home and went out for a pre-race dinner at a Brew Pub,  this was a perfect setup for the next 3 days of intense riding and considerable suffering.

We ran into some Penn State Greeks

TSE Stage 1 - 30 Mile 3200' TT( 2 laps of a 15 mile Loop - 1 Enduro segment marked in yellow )

We started at noon and the temperature was close to 80.  I tried to make the start count,  I was willing to burn a match to get into the front group and not have to worry about passing too many people. We went out hard and I was about 10th going  up the little climbs. The first 2-3 miles were on "fresh" cut trails around the boy scout camp where the TSE is held and on the fire roads around it. The trails weren't the best and the flow wasn't there, but we manged thru them and then headed out into the mature part of the trail network, I kept my 10th position for most of the  first lap riding with a couple of riders, there was a long decent about half way and feeling good I let the FS ride, the enduro segment was rocky but not too bad. I got off and walked one section. There was a 2 mile road section and then we came back thru the camp and I grabbed a bottle with nuuns and thought that would get me thru the next lap. Everything was going well until the 2nd time down the decent. I felt my legs start to tighten and by the time I hit the road climbs, I was fairly close to a full cramp. I put it in easy gear and tried to spin out the cramps. I was able to keep it together until the finish and immediately tried to re-hydrate. CourseProfile-Stage1-2014

Once finished I felt fairly good, I was certainly exhausted but happy I did not cramp. It ended with Marty in 2nd and me in 3rd place in the 45+.

Laying on the benches after stage 1

TSE Stage 2 - 42 Miles 5890' Coopers Gap

We spent most of the night talking about this stage before the start, and the rumor was that there was a super technical bench cut decent that dropped "Really Steep". I knew this was going to be a tough day.  We started with a 6 mile gravel road section and the front group again pulled away with me and about 20 others. The young guys pulled in the 80 degree heat and humidity, and I was feeling yesterday stage and the 20 mph pace was tough, I dropped off the group about 1/2 mile before the trail head in the single track we immediately hit traffic on a steep technical rock climb with a line of riders walking it. I got thru, jumped on the bike and picked up a guy, and we worked together thru most of the first 15 miles then we hit a climb. He dropped off and I ended up following the women duo team leaders up the climb: they were seriously good. 

At top was the 1st of 2 times we would come to the checkpoint feed and I made my biggest mistake of the day. I got my drop bag, drank from my bottle, ate a little and thought I had enough water to make it back for the 2nd check in so I left my bottle and did not fill my camel back:  HUGE MISTAKE.  Right after the checkpoint we dropped down the nasty rocky 800' bench cut decent. I was terrified for most of it, and then we started the big climb 1000' in the sun. About half way up the mountain, I notice I was out of water and I looked at my Garmin: 24 miles in. This meant I had 6 miles to go before I hit the checkpoint and it was baking hot. So I started begging for water, I found a trail photographer and he gave me a bottle of water and I chugged it. I kept rolling and lucky for me as I was climbing the last section of fire road a truck past and I asked if they had any water and they handed me a bottle of cold water. It saved my life. I would have never made it if it weren't for their kindness. 

When I hit the feed point again, I took on all the water I could and ate PBJ and Pringles. Man was I crushed but I had made it thru the toughest part... or so I thought. I dropped down the Enduro segment cursing the rocks and wishing I had never heard of Enduro, but I made it. A guy at the bottom handed me a Yuengling and hooted. I chugged a bit and thanked him: whew-hoo.  

The last section began with a ride thru lovely d-town Mifflin, I was ready for this to be over. I knew I had a climb coming but I had made a pact with myself during my terror filled 1000' decent that I would cherish the climbs: at least they didn't have bone crushing boulders. I hit the bottom of the last climb and the race guide mentioned this was the notorious "Stillhouse Hollow" climb that include in the Wilderness 101.  I'd never done it, so I paced my self at the bottom. I was immediately passed by 2 younger riders who jammed passed me and accelerated. I kept my rabbits in sight and within 1/4 mile one rider had dropped pace and I caught him. We worked together and he started to crack and dropped off. I kept going and about 1/2 mile from the top I caught up to the second rider. As I came up on him I told him to jump on my wheel, he looked at me and said "I'm so cracked". I gave him some encouragement and then rolled on. 

This was the toughest climb I've ever done!  After all the other climbs it was little much to include, but this why this race is epic. I hit the top and man was I Happy.  I rolled down a grassy decent and came to a the last obstacle of the day, the bridge out creek crossing with a 10ft drop and 10ft climb. TSE had done a good job manning the crossing, but at this level of exhaustion it was a bit surreal.  I dropped into the stream walked to the other side and handed my bike up and made it 10ft steep creek bed.  I assumed the finish line was right around the corner, but it turned out there was about of mile of "Fresh cut" trail that was included in day 1's stage that took us to the finish. When I crossed the line I looked at my Garmin and it said 5hrs 25 mins. 

What a crushing day, but at least I finished 3rd for the stage and maintained my 3rd GC for the 45+ 3-Day. I felt OK, but as the evening went on I really hit a low point. At dinner I was quiet and as everyone laughed and talked about tomorrow, I felt like there was no way I could ride again tomorrow. Especially the 5 Enduro segments we had in store. I have to thank my wife Cindy for talking me off the ledge, and The Crew for helping me keep a positive mental state. Back at the house we shared a few beers and went to bed.
Me, Josh, Jackie, Joanne and Marty

TSE Stage 3 - 25 Miles 3550' Galbraith Gap - Enduro stage(Huckin)

Ok given the previous day and my mental state I was completely on the fence about even doing this stage. I knew the 2 out of the 5 Enduro segments would be crazy and I was not looking forward to that terror. Then we saw this...

A message addressed to me?

So I nutted up and got ready for the day. Today the only timing would be on the downhill Enduro segments. We all agreed to ride together and just have fun. We would descend the Enduros and then re-group. It started with a healthy gravel road climb and man the legs were feeling sore, but we all kept it rolling. When we got to the 1st timing checkpoint there was a huge line of riders waiting to chip in so it took 30 mins to ride the first. After that one there wasn't much wait, which was nice. The first 2 segments were tame and enjoyable... then came the harder ones. I held my shit together for the 3rd segment and then we tempo-ed up the 1000' climb to segment "Wildcat".  We stopped at the feed checkpoint and fueled up one last time before heading over to wildcat. I decide to try and follow Sue for this one, as it was really rocky and Sue is a really great rocky descender. My hands were very tired, which had me nervous as Wildcat descends 800' in just over 1 mile. 

 As we made the first dropped my fears were confirmed: boulders awaited to impale and faced the trail like pointed dragons' teeth. In my weakened state my confidence was too shaken to handle this trail and as I descended I lost control. Luckily, I flew into some brush with a couple of minor hits on the rocks. At that point I decided this was too much and began to walk much of the way down.  We finished on segement 5, which I had ridden before last year. At that time I rode it clean, but today I was not confident. I walked the toughest section. 

At the bottom I clocked out and we cheered for each other as the last of our crew finished up. It was a crazy good feeling to finish up and I felt a real sense of completing something special. I know it may seem a little much, but this were truly some life changing moments for me as I faced and conquered my limits.

My list of TSE learnings:

  • Always fill your water pack, or you will regret it
  • My definition of Enduro - To huck down a mountain, with wreckless style and freedom and disregard for life and limb.
  • When Enduro descending: choose an ejection trajectory that aims for the brush as it is much more forgiving then the pointy rocks.
  • When you think you are cracked you're really not: you can always go further and longer. Just keep pushing.

That's my report for the TSE 3 day.  I'm glad I did it and the check mark is complete for the bucket list.

TS3 Solo Men 45+ Podium

Total Time
Jonathan Card
Martin Mrugal
Matt Perry