Words by: Dylan Johnson
The Cohutta 100 in Ducktown, Tennessee, has been a part of the National Ultra Endurance series since it’s second year in 2007. The race has a lot of history, both in the series and for me personally. My results at Cohutta display my evolution as a racer and the grit and determination that is needed to be successful in endurance racing. I haven’t always been successful, in fact, my early years were plagued with bad races. Though difficult to deal with at the time, looking back each one was a valuable lesson that helped shape me into the racer I am today.
The first time I raced the Cohutta 100 I was just 16 years old. Back in those days I raced a Niner One9 and was beginning to find my legs in the single speed category. That year I found myself battling for the lead of the single speed race. Racing like that, at the front of the pack, was a first for me and extremely exciting. But, my day took a turn for the worse when I lost traction in a gravel corner. I ended up abandoning the race around mile 50, with a concussion and cuts to my face requiring stitches. Those scars are still visible today and are a reminder of how far I’ve come.
That experience didn’t deter me from racing my mountain bike. I’d go on to experience a lot more “bad luck” in those early days whether it be flat tires, broken chains, going off course, or some sort of physical problem. With each race, I gained experience and eventually, things started to shift in a more positive direction for me. Three years ago, at 20 years old, I found myself in the lead group of a race. I decided to make a break for it with 30 miles to go. I soloed for about 15 miles before a bonk set in. I got caught but still managed a 3rd place, my first National Ultra Endurance (NUE) podium ever. The next year the pieces came together and I stayed conservative, stayed fueled and came away with my first NUE win.
In 2018 I was going for my 3rd Cohutta victory in a row. On what is traditionally a hardtail course, my bike of choice was the Niner RKT 9 RDO. I’ve become so comfortable on this bike after racing it all last season and felt fully confident in its ability, in particular on the final 10 miles of singletrack before the finish.
After the initial 20 miles of singletrack, the front group hit the gravel where we would stay for the majority of the race. Christian Tanguy attacked around mile 30 and I quickly bridged the gap to him. The two of us broke away and gained a sizable lead. We stayed together until that final 10-mile section where the RKT 9 came to life. I threw down some watts and got a gap on Christian in the remaining singletrack section and held it to the finish to take the win.
I always look forward to the Cohutta 100. Sure it’s got great trails, amazing support, and that friendly atmosphere we all come to expect at a mountain bike event, but beyond that, I have a lot of memories from this race, both good and bad. I’ve come to appreciate the bad as well as the good because many mistakes went into making a winning formula. I’m happy to say that I’ve come a long way since those early years.