Maryland Endurance Challenge is one of my favorite Ultracycling events. This would be my third consecutive participation. The event was once again trusted to be the national 12-hour championship. Top organized with aid station , hydration and nutrition at the start & timing system.
The starting list for this year was stacked with top racers. The top three finishers from the previous year were there. My fitness was greatly improved and I believed to have a chance at the top five. Quite honestly , it could have been better but my training has been in decline since the Achilles injury in Florida.
The weather was very favorable and the route was something I am very familiar with. The course is even harder this year due to a detour that added extra climbing. Many friends were expected to show up. They’re all familiar faces and repeated offenders such as Andrea Matney, Greg Conderacci , William Smith, Lib, Damon Taaffe, Ken Ray, Nancy and John Guth, Marc, Tina, Jessica & Jassop to name few.
The start location and host of the event just like in the previous two editions was Mount Saint Mary University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Once again, all profits will go towards a nonprofit organization from Frederick called SHIP . Please donate as they are doing great things in the community by helping homeless school kids achieve their dreams. Thanks to all the volunteers as well.
The forecast for the event was favorable with temperatures in the lower 80s. It was 45 minutes before the race start and time to mix all of my hydration for the day. Andrea and Greg had a canopy setup and invited me to leave my supplies under the supervision of their crew Chuck. He was very helpful throughout the race, taking pictures of us and always offering help. I really didn’t need it as much since all of my nutrition was ready. The typical procedure was to put my foot down , toss the empty bottle on the ground and grab new bottle. With five minutes before the start, I sprinted up the road and listened to the race rules. We departed 30 seconds after 8 a.m.
My goal was to finish better than the previous year while beating my personal best of 217.8 miles . I was thinking about my previous personal best and what I did good during that race – hang with the lead group for majority of the first half of the race. That gave me advantage due to drafting with large group and sharing the workload.
As soon as the race started, the expected group of leaders formed. It was about 12 of us but I knew that soon the group would likely cut into half. The long Loop this year was over 30 miles and this will make it really hard for someone to follow for more than a lap or two. The pace was blistering and we were moving with over 23 miles per hour. Everyone was working to help maintain this average speed and taking turns.
I was stupid enough to attack few times and drop everyone within the first 10 or 20 miles in the race. That was not even my intention but I couldn’t help it up the hills. Things were looking great during the first lap and as soon as we started the second , the group of 12 decreased to 10 and eventually 9. There was a rider constantly in front of us who really wasn’t working with the group. He was either that strong, didn’t want to work together with us or had different plans. I was not able to figure it out yet, but all this effort is going to come back and haunt him later on.
The stupid trend of dropping water bottles continued and I almost caused a crash. As we were crossing a railroad track ,one of my bottles slipped and fell on the ground. I was so upset at myself and never placed any bottles there for the rest of the race.
Things were looking pretty good during the second Long loop but I was slowly starting to feel it. The temperature was increasing and adding more fuel to the fire. Luckily, I had my Emcools pads and they saved the day. I had to play it smart and start pulling back a little . My desire was to hang with these guys for the full three long laps. This is about 111 miles or a little less than half of what I was planning to accomplish today. The first 100 miles were completed in 4 hours and 29 minutes and it felt great. Average speed 23.4 Mph !
The plan was not to stop after the second loop but I lost a bottle and was forced to. I went ahead and tried to go through the time mat first in order to quickly exchange and not lose sight of the front pack.. So far so good.
During the second long Loop nothing really changed. The group was working nicely and now down to about 7 riders. At this point, I was thinking to myself that if I can hang with them for at least another long loop then I definitely have a chance of finishing 7th or better. The heat was starting to creep up on us.
On the third lap things were getting more and more serious and I can feel that the group was slowly going to break up and someone’s going to attack. About two-thirds into the third Loop or around mile 95 I had enough and decided to pull back. My heart rate was elevated and I could not keep up any longer . I needed big efforts three times as I was getting dropped by about 40 to 50 feet. After my third , I decided that this was enough.
Time for the short loop.
I finished the third and last long loop and headed out for the short one. On one of my first few short loops, Damon Taaffe came from behind. I didn’t see any other racer from the lead group and when I asked if he was in the lead , he confirmed. I was so happy as his racing is truly inspiring. Apparently, he went on attack at the hottest part of the day, six hours after we took off. What a bold move! After the race, he told me that he felt this is his chance for a podium , felt strong and attacked. Unfortunately, that effort wrecked him and he had to stop few times afterwards in order to recover. I still love it. without risking , you cant win. This was true example of determination. Its always hard to decide when to attack.
My average speed kept decreasing in the heat. I stopped few times to apply some emcools pads on my quads and chest in order to lower my core temperature. My black skinsuit was covered with salt and touching my face and lips felt like eating salty pretzels 🙂 Damon even told me that my fancy race number pocket on the back was full of sweat. Perhaps a small hole is needed to let it drain. Ok, enough with the unpleasant specifics.
It was great to see everyone else racing hard. Now that we were on the short loops , I was able to see them more often. It was great to see Andrea at the pit and even though I was not due for refill , I ended up stopping to give her a hug. This is my cycling sister and ill always be her fan.
As the ride progressed and I was closing in on 8 hours of racing, my average speed was down to 20 mph. On paper , I still had chance for 240 miles but there was no way I can maintain this speed for the last 4 hours. The good news is that my stoppage time this year was excellent and I managed to complete the event with about 5 minutes off the bike.
As I approached the 10th hour, my average speed for the race dropped to 19.5. It was evident that I was suffering and not making the progress I was looking for. I can`t even tell what my position was in the overall standing but was hoping that others were suffering more or stopping longer than me.
Thank you Mike Wali and Joel Dechter for the encouragement from the pit stop. They were screaming our names every time we crossed the timing mat. Much appreciated. I finished with a new Personal best of 230.04 miles ( according to my Wahoo GPS ). My final average speed was 19.3 mph and pro rated finish mileage 236.7. This was also new personal best surpassing my previous by 23.6 miles or over 1 hour of racing time. Considering the heat and amount of climbing, I was happy with the result
Thanks to Chuck for the great pictures with the Bulgarian flag. I am definitely proud to call myself Bulgarian and show our fighting spirit.
Event stats after 12 hours.
I finished 7th Overall. This is definitely disappointing but still very strong effort and improvement compared to the first two editions after finishing 7th in 2017 with 207.9 miles and 6th in 2018 with 213.1 miles.
Event stats after 12 hours.