2017 Stewart 45

Unfiltered…

The Stewart 45 is the race that sparked a fire in me!

Stewart 45 Lap 2

The 2015 iteration of the Stewart 45 was my first endurance race. On that day I was physically and even worse mentally broken…it was the hardest drive home I’ve ever had after a race.

Looking at yourself after a DNF you see a lot of ugly things that leave you with a lot of unanswered questions. I didn’t have a mechanical, I didn’t crash out, I simply gave into those little demons. What makes it even worse was the fact that it was half way through the 3rd lap. So I suffered for over 3 hours to not finish the last 45 minutes? Yeah that math doesn’t add up!

That defeat was probably the best thing that could have happened to me early in my racing career. It translates to life. It’s not about where you place. It’s about finishing what you started. Did the 101 in 95 degrees with 100% humidity hurt? Yup…but I finished. Did the Rattling Epic chunkfest suck when I tore a sidewall and proceeded to get 3 additional flats? Yup…but I finished. See that failure unleashed something in me to never want to feel that way again. When you’re in that place, I mean deep in that place…the mind will start to play tricks on you.

My mind – You serious right now? So you are cramping in your right hamstring and left quad and you want to keep going? You’re fckn stupid. Let’s live to fight another day…just shut it down. Oh shit you’re low on water…let’s shut it down. Fck lower back spasms, you can’t take your hands off the grips…yeah that’s a real problem. Let’s just pull over at the pit and sit for a minute. Whew, we gave it a good run today..let’s just chill out and get ready for the next one…

Shut the fck up!

2017 Stewart 45…

The day started with a 4:00 am alarm. Quick shower, add CarboRocket to my bottles which I filled the night before, pack the car and I’m headed out by 5:00 am. I link up with two of my teammates Bill and Marshal at the Sloatsburg rest stop off of 87. We pull up to Stewart around 7:00 am, park, use the bathroom, register, setup our feed zone and head out for a little leg spin. We go through the start area to where you hit the first piece of singletrack along with going from the finish line towards the feed zone. By the time we finish the rest of the team is there. Around 8:30 am we do a 15 minute warm up and head over to the starting line.

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Horn goes off and as always it’s a Fast & Furious start. I settle into the 4th spot and decide to not chase the lead group of 3 into the singletrack. I’m running at a great pace and with a group of 3 other Sport racers. Navigating through the back of SS and Masters we continued to hold a great pace through lap 1. Then disaster strikes…around mile 6 right at the bottom of the Death Climb I dropped my GU flask. Out of pocket to mouth was Gucci, mouth to back left jersey pocket FAIL. I made the decision to leave it and kept with my group of 3 which eventually dwindled to 2. The back half of lap 1 it was me and Aaron (R-Cubed).

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The start of Lap 2 I chucked a bottle (didn’t pit) and moved the rear bottle to the front. I was able to ask our one woman pit crew to grab me a GU for the start of lap 3 without stopping which was awesome for me. Aaron and I pushed on. We pop out to a fire road and have a quick discussion. Aaron says “so what’s the plan, you want to close that gap or are you good?” I reply “I’m settled in nice and I definitely don’t want to blow myself up”. He replies “all good…I’m gonna see if I can catch them”. He takes off and I continue at my pace. At this point we were still very early into lap 2. I’ve passed a lot of people but have no idea where I stood in my category. My pace is still very good and all of the sudden it happened. The heat and humidity set in. Typical Stewart…so much for the 70 degree somewhat cool start. It was now well over 80 and the humidity was wicked. I see a Black & Orange jersey in the distance and set a target to catch. Eventually I catch the rear wheel and low and behold it’s my boy Christian. I don’t immediately say anything and just stay on his wheel. No doubt the young guns pace (Gabi) was brutal at the start and it’s now looking like my decision to not chase may have been a good move. Middle lap 2 and Christian says “anytime you want to pass just let me know”. I reply “nope I’m good”. He looks back and start laughing…dude why didn’t you say anything? My reply “oh I just wanted to see what those legs were looking like LOL”. We worked together the rest of lap 2 and both pit before the start of lap 3.

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I chuck bottle number 2 and grab a fresh cold one. Diana has GU in hand with the tops already off. My pit is 30 seconds max and I’m off.

Lap 3 was brutal. At this point the lower back is killing me. I’m having minor cramping in both legs but just continue to pedal. We take turns pulling and would push the flats and spin the climbs. Now my forearms are screaming and my hands are at times glued to the grips. Cramps are really starting to set in but I don’t say a word. We pop out to the death climb for the last time and I make a decision to see what’s left in the tank. I pushed hard on the climb and when I hit the top Christian wasn’t right on my wheel. I didn’t drop the hammer but I jumped into the singletrack and hit the flow section and tried to open a little gap. A couple minutes later Christian is right back on my wheel (but he burned a match to do it). 3/4 of the way through the last lap and Christian clips a tree. I yell out are you okay and he responds yes. Another small gap opens and he has to burn another match to get back on. I think the last straw was the last rock feature (nasty step up on tired legs) before you come out to the finish line fire road. I somehow was able to clear it and he didn’t…another gap opened and the last match that he burned to catch me on the fire road probably left him with nothing for the sprint finish. We cross the line 2 seconds apart and I have no idea what place either of us were in. Time on the day was 4 hours and 3 minutes.

Honestly it didn’t matter! I was hurting bad…I could barely bend down to open up my cooler. Everything felt like it hurt for about 10 minutes. The most important thing was that I finished. I could finally rid myself of what has been haunting me for the past 2 years. I completely forgot how hard this race was but was reminded very quickly. I made some major mistakes in terms of nutrition for this race. Some that were rider error, some that were outright bad preparation. Just knowing how bad the weather is there I should have went for 2 bottles per lap in lieu of trying to stretch 1 bottle per lap. That’s a story for another day though…right now I’m still riding on a high from finishing a tough race. When the dust settled I finished 4th out of 38 with Christian 2 seconds behind to round out the top 5. Shout to Aaron for pushing hard and finishing 2nd.

How are we defined? Is it past or present? I chose to believe it’s a little bit of both. I think there is a lesson in everything. Your failure one day could be the reason that you succeed another day. Racing bikes is hard but the hardest thing is controlling your emotions and keeping your mind at bay. Time and time again the mind will talk you out of something that you can totally do. Sometimes a bad word or two or hundred could be the difference. Don’t be afraid to tell your mind to… I’ll let you complete that sentence (post it in the comments).

As always thanks to Brands Cycle & Fitness for keeping me and the bike raceday ready. Shout to my Brands Factory Racing teammates for another stellar raceday and thanks to all of my sponsors/supporters for coming along with me on this journey. Special thanks to Diana for holding down the pit and pretty much saving my race at the start of lap 3. Lastly but definitely not least shout to Norm and the mtbnj.com crew. You guys put on an amazing event and I truly hope this wasn’t the last race at Stewart!

Photo credit to Diana Glick Toback & GT Luke

We have some big races coming up here in the second half of 2017. Time to get back to work. As always thanks for following my life/my journey…until next time,

Jon Merritt

 

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