Always hard, always epic. This year’s skyway was no exception. Most people try to get better over the years. I’m OK with continuing to see my results decline because that means more and more strong, competitive people are finding this amazing race created and brought into being by Brent Marshall and continuing to grow under the oversight of Jason and Wendi Shearer at Ordinary Epics and the dedicated COGS group.
At-a-glance: skyway over the years
I’m starting out with a table of my results and links to race reports over the years along with stats about the races before a recap of this year’s race.
|Year||Race Report (and Strava link)||Place||Distance (total)||Time (total)||Pic|
|2012||Epic Skyway Epic||2nd||59.4mi||4:08:43|
|2013||Skyway Epic 2013||2nd||58.5mi||4:09:28|
|2014||Full stop – an unexpected mid-season break||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|2015||Skyway Epic 2015||2nd||107.6mi|
|2016||Skyway Epic/Tour de Tuscaloosa Double Header||1st||100.9mi||7:25:41|
|2017||2017 Skyway Epic 200 Mile Race (Report)||1st||203.7mi||17:00:45|
|2018||Skyway Epic 2019 and 2018||1st||278.2mi||33:32:00|
|2019||Skyway Epic 2019 and 2018||1st||303.83mi||33:41:01|
|2020||Postponed skyway (September)||2nd||102.1mi|
|2021||Skyway Epic 2021||6th||109.6mi|
|2022||Skyway Epic 2022 – 10 years of Skyway||7th||108.7mi|
Some of my favorite memories over the years
- Family showing up to surprise me at the finish
- Oven mitts
- Emergency bivvy
- 1st place
- Falling over and getting completely submerged in a skyway mud puddle
- Podiums over the years
- Hanging out with people at the end
- Starting down by the boat dock
- Starting down by the dam
- Alabama’s longest gravel road … hot
- Thunderstorm lightning everywhere … cold
- That feeling of bombing down Rocky Mountain Church Rd
- Riding through a controlled burn still smouldering during the race
- Kristine rescuing me at the Chelsea Sonic on the way back one year
- Riding back out to watch Pete Foret finish the Skyway 300
- Sleeping in the car waiting out a thunderstorm before the start
- Racing with a medical boot
- The absolute relief and joy of the finish
2022 Skyway Epic
This has been a busy year for me. Research projects are taking off at work, plus a number of other responsibilities keeping me quite busy at work, plus my normal teaching load means that I have had to limit my riding quite a bit … almost 750 miles less than this time last year. On top of that, most of my riding has been quite slow with no racing at all in the legs. And on top of all that, it’s not like my hunger/food intake has decreased so I’m a few pounds over where I need to be weight-wise for good racing. And lastly, age is starting to catch up with me as there are more aches and pains to deal with while riding.
I know that last paragraph sounds like a laundry list of excuses, well, because it is. It’s also somewhat intentional as my primary goal for this year is to put in the best possible time I can at the Tour Divide, which requires a different kind of training and yet would be great to not line up at the start in Canada with 15,000 miles already in my legs for the year, which is exactly what happened before the June 2015 Race Across America.
To maximize training for the Tour Divide, I decided to ride to the start of the 100ish mile Skyway Epic again this year, do the race, and then ride home for a grand total of 21 hours and 252.5 miles on the day. I wanted to be sure to hit 250 miles to make sure this ride would count towards my lifetime Eddington goal of 250, which I barely made it to last year on the way home (250.3 miles). This year I managed to push it out a couple miles farther by including the climb from the Cahaba River all the way up to the top of Shades Mountain.
I knew it was going to be cold on the way down to the start, and sure enough it was cold with the temp in the mid 30s for most of the 6 hours it took me to get to the start. I was about 30 minutes late leaving the house, which meant I had to cut the ride a bit short, and still just barely made it in time to get my registration packet, dump all my extra stuff (and clothes) under the registration table, and then race over to the start area by the dam holding my race plate and zip ties in my hand.
Sarah Cooper, fellow 2015 Heart of the South 500 finisher and 2017 Race Across America winner, flew down from Iowa to race this year’s Skyway Epic. As I propped my bike up and frantically tried to tie the plate on while Jason was giving last minute instructions, she came over and helped me tie the plate on. Just in time, as only minute or so later Jason said 3-2-1 go and we were off! Sarah did great winning the women’s masters race in her first ever skyway.
I took off like the start of a short track mountain bike race gunning for the hole shot. I knew I didn’t have a chance at doing well in the race, but I wanted to be first up and over the hill. I made it to the top of the hill first, but the rest of the front group caught up at the crest and came right around me. This was good, though, because as I would soon find out I was going to have lots of problems in the singletrack. I put on new mountain bike tires and set them up tubeless the day before thinking I would keep the high tire pressure (nearly 50 PSI) for the road ride down to the start. I intended to drop the pressure all the way down to 25-27 PSI up front and maybe 30 PSI in the back, but then completely forgot in the mad rush of me being late to pick up my packet and get ready for the start. So I entered the opening single track on a rigid gravel bike running nearly 50 PSI. I wondered a few times in the singletrack after things weren’t going well if it would be worth the 30-60 seconds to stop, unscrew the valve caps and stem and let some air pressure out. But ultimately, I decided against it and did the best I could.
Also, with a lot of pedal swapping recently between my Fat bike and gravel bike, I ended up with my oldest set of pedals on my gravel bike. I realized this as soon as I pulled my left foot out of the pedal and smashed my heel hard onto the pedal within the first minute or two of entering the singletrack. It hurt bad, but what can you do. I kept on pedaling hoping it would stop hurting. A few miles later I had mostly stopped noticing it, when I did it again smashing my heel at the exact same spot. This hurt a lot and was discouraging. I even had thoughts of calling it a day before making it out of the singletrack. But I knew I was already long out of contention for the podium, and I wanted to practice pushing on through pain.
I also felt like since the pain had quieted down once it would quiet down again, which it did. As soon as I exited the singletrack and made it to wiregrass road, I took off in pursuit of a decent finish and no longer though about my heel at all … until I finished about 8 hours later and started walking around at the finish and then immediately remembered I had smashed my heel on my pedal twice unprotected. I was wearing sandals for the race because of toe problems, long story that involves getting hit by a car on a deserted road, multiple surgeries, and ultimately not being able to bend my toe ever again. Doesn’t work well with mountain bike shoes where something has to give either the bottom of the shoe or your toe … and if the toe doesn’t give … and the shoe doesn’t flex … it leads to a pressure point on your toe that becomes unbearable after a while. An alternative is tennis shoes on flat pedals, but another alternative is sandals and that’s what I went with.
But meanwhile back in the race, I made some progress and caught a few of the many riders who had passed me in the singletrack, but then I eventually got caught by a couple riders and stopped looking forward and started looking backwards expecting to see somebody else catching me soon. But eventually that stopped as I started to feel better on the way back and started catching the 60 milers. By the end I was moving pretty good because I had passed a 100 miler and was worried that they would pass me back on the singletrack. The singletrack was much better on the way back because I wasn’t trying to keep up with really fast guys on mountain bikes. I could ride it at my own pace and this ended up being a lot more efficient. Also, I had stopped before the dreaded Skyway-2 on the way back to let air out of my tires. It’s kinda funny, actually, because I kept forgetting that I needed to let air out of my tires. But ultimately it was the thought of how bad it was going to be coming down Skyway-2 on a gravel bike that made me remember to let air out of my tires to at least absorb the blows a little bit.
All-in-all, Skyway is always hard, but it’s always epic, and it’s always rewarding to finish. It’s also rewarding to see other people struggling to make it through and overcoming the many challenges that come up during any undertaking like this and see it through to the end.