The day started like most race mornings, very early, holding a hot cup of coffee and wondering why in the hell I’m doing this. Then, as most do for an out of town race, we all met up in a parking lot to carpool. After a quick exchange of hellos and good mornings, we began loading up our bikes and gear to begin our journey southwest towards Arkadelphia’s Iron Mountain. The race was originally scheduled for Saturday, March 18, but due to storm forecasts, race director Fred Phillips, decided to push the race back a day. Saturday turned out to be a little overcast but no real rain. Driving towards Iron Mountain Sunday we saw nothing but gray clouds and started to question the date change especially when we stepped out at Iron Mountain and felt some sprinkles. However, any doubt about the weather was quickly demolished when the sun came out. The day ended up being sunny and warm.
Iron Mountain, near Lake DeGray, is a popular staging area for many mountainous adventures, especially with its gorgeous views of the lake. Not only does the Mountain bike Cross-Country and Marathon race happen here but also big events such as the Iron Mountain XTERRA Epic, DeGray Lake Sprint Triathlon, and the Lake DeGray Trail Run.
The Iron Mountain Marathon Race is broken up into two rides, the 42-mile race, and the 25-mile tour. Last year the 42-mile race seemed inconceivable to me and I only did the 25-mile tour, which was my biggest ride yet. Since then I have pushed my biking endurance, starting with fun 30-40 mile rides and eventually pushed myself even further to do the Hot Springs Spa City (4 Lap race at Cedar Glades in Hot Springs) and the Lake Sylvia’s Slobberknocker Tour . So this year I decided, what the hell, why not? Which I was later questioning early Sunday morning.
Even though it was a mountain bike race the first 6 miles started with a road hill climb up to the bridge which you crossed, including a great view of Lake DeGray if you weren’t too focused on racing, then down a ways to where you entered into the woods. By this point, the race group was pretty spread out thanks to the road hill climb. I forget where exactly we entered the trail, but I do remember that once we hit dirt the real fun began. Zooming in and out of trees, flying downhill, trying not to let others pass, then pushing up the short but steep hill climb by the road. Everyone was having a blast, even the couple racing all 42 miles on a tandem!
Earlier this year I raced in the snowy muddy mess at the Spa City Marathon and ended up having to pay a good chunk of my paycheck to get it good as new again. So I was hesitant to sign up for the Iron Mountain Marathon with all the rain we have received lately. However, many of my friends had already registered and were urging me to join, saying that Iron Mountain drains really well. I was still hesitant until Fred Phillips moved the race to what ended up being Sunny Sunday. My friends were right, the Iron Mountain trails do drain well. There were only a few muddy spots. Every time I ride out at Iron Mountain I always despise doing the technical fire road hill climb, especially 3 times for the Marathon Race. I was pleasantly surprised to see a “Turn here” arrow sign right before the climb. Happily I picked up me speed and turned right into the middle of a huge mud pit with a technical rocky hill climb to follow. Normally I would be happy not having to climb the fire road hill but this year I would have preferred it!
The first lap was a blur, especially going neck in neck with one other woman in my age group. We had been taking turns passing each other throughout the first lap, finally towards the end of the first lap I passed her again. When I reached the tent I was ready to call it a day but knew I had to push on, not knowing how far behind me she was. So at the aid tent I quickly enjoyed a G.U. got my water bottle refilled and rolled on. It was a challenging second lap but I pushed through especially with the help of Pandora blaring from my phone, which the water boys apparently approved of. After enduring some painful sections multiple times, including the third and final walk through of the mud pit….I was finally nearing the end of the course. I crossed the final creek crossing and new the finish was just around the mountain, literally. Sure enough as I turned the corner there it was, the finish! I could hear the announcer call out my name as I rode closer. “Here comes Virginia Buff for the finish!” I was so excited to finally get off my bike that I just rode straight through the finish line and forgot to give them my plate number. Behind me I could hear the announcer, “Virginia come back” haha oops! After enjoying some much needed time off the bike and a cold bottle of water, I went to go check the results. I knew I was nowhere close to the top three female finishers but was curious to see how I placed against the woman in my age group. I hadn’t seen her the whole second lap, had she passed me when I stopped at the tent for a G.U.? Nope, according to the results she ended up not finishing. I was relieved but slightly saddened because racing her made the race more fun and the miles fly by. After a hard push, I ended up first in my age group but knew it was only by default and that I have a lot of hard training ahead of me but I look forward to a good challenge.