The Big Frog 65 (or for me it was the Big Frog 72. I will explain later) was without a doubt one of the most memorable racing experiences of my life. I've competed in only two other MTB races that were over 50 miles so I knew it would be a challenge. Needless to say I had so much fun I even considered giving up being a triathlete to start a new racing career in endurance MTB racing! Well, maybe in another life...
Mornings don't bother me to much since I'm somewhat of an early bird. So when Ben pulled into my driveway at 6am the Thursday before the race, I was ready to go. As I walked out the door I was greeted by the typical Michigan weather. I thought to myself that it won't be this cold the morning of our race in Tennessee! We hit the road hoping to miss traffic and construction as Ben plugged in the coordinates to our destination. The eleven hour trip seemed to fly by as Ben and I talked about everything from training and nutrition to the best Led Zeppelin song ( I still think its In My Time of Dying) and if Carrie Underwood or Taylor Swift was better looking. I'm glad that we both agreed that Carrie was the better of the two. Ben seemed a little apprehensive about siding with me on that one. Besides I don't think he would have enjoyed riding his bike the rest of the way to Ducktown! Before we new it, we were winding our way through the Tennessee back roads intermingled with local traffic. We pulled behind a local driving a red Ford Ranger and thought it would be appropriate to pull out my camera and start recording. This road had more curves than a Vegas showgirl and our friend in the ranger was using both lanes to race his way to a checkered flag victory. It was a surreal moment to say the least and I was expecting the General Lee to pass us on the inside at any moment blaring Lynard Synard's Gimme back my Bullets. But, to no avail I didn't see the orange Dodge Charger with the classic confederate flag or Daisy Duke. Bummer.
The morning of the race was freezing! I thought we had left the cold back in Michigan. I knew it was supposed to warm up to around 80 but I was having second thoughts about a 40 degree jump in temperature through out the race. We positioned ourselves at the front of the pack hoping to escape any bottlenecks when we hit the single track. I really didn't have a plan. I was hoping to stay with the team for as long as I could. The pack thinned out on the road and I positioned myself behind two other fellow racers who where behind Ben. Chris and Eric lead the attack in the front. I couldn't wait to hit some single track with some good downhills because I knew I could make up for lost time. That way I could at least catch up to Ben then maybe up to Chris and Eric. I got my wish and I passed a few riders in the single track and got on Ben's rear wheel. A few miles later we caught up to Chris and Eric and rode for a mile or two. This was probably the highlight of the race for me. All of us wearing D2 jerseys passing other riders single file. I knew it wouldn't last for long as Chris and Eric disappeared as soon as we hit some open double track. Ben and I stayed together to about mile 25 or 30. As we hit more and more climbing on the fire roads Ben slowly began to disappear. If there wasn't going to be anymore downhills for a while keeping up with Ben was out of the question. I dropped a water bottle on a downhill somewhere which left me with only some EFS liquid shots and a bottle of three hour mixed perpetuem. All of which is pretty much useless without water to dilute it. So I just had to make due till I hit the drop bag aid station. I knew I was somewhere around 15th place which surprised me and motivated me to push harder. Then disaster struck. I made a wrong turn after I switched out my bottles at the aid station by the key hole loop. A loop I had already completed. I was supposed to continue straight but went right back out on the Key Hole! I didn't even pay attention to the fire road that kept going straight. I just followed other racers I've never seen before to the right. I climbed the hill and made the long decent to the bottom of the valley and back up the next big climb. I then realized after passing dozens of racers on the downhills that somethings not right. I asked a rider what place he was in and he said he was way back. He then told me that I was supposed to go straight instead of right and I agreed with him because the surroundings looked very familiar. Right then and there all the motivation left me. I felt like I was going to vomit. I turned around and started slowly making my way back to the aid station where I had made my navigational error. I thought the race was over for me. When I got back to the aid station I recognized many racers I had passed at the roll out. I decided not to call it quits and went back out on the course in the right direction. I knew that I had lost over 30 minutes and if I kept sulking I would lose even more time. Now I just tell everyone that I signed up for the Big Frog 72! So I decided to enjoy God's creation around me and be thankful that I have the ability to do something I love regardless of the situation. So I pedaled on. Everything else went fine and I had no mechanical's or cramping. I felt great in the single track and downhills (I do need to work on my climbing). I felt like I could have kept racing after I crossed the finish line which made me feel even better about my day's performance.
I'm a new racer to the team this year so it was an amazing experience to hang out with most of the team at the motel. I always learn something new about racing when I'm around them weather its about what to hydrate with during a race or how to train more effectively. They really know how to race!
The weather, fellow racers, event coordinators, and aid station volunteers were amazing. I thank God that everything went smoothly and that everyone had a safe race. I will be back next year that's for sure!