Monday, September 5, 2011

First 6 hour Solo experience

So today was the first time ever I attempted a 6 hour solo mountain bike race. And it was a hard one. The short story is that I completed it with a total of 54 miles, more miles than I ever raced or even rode on my mountain bike at one time. The course loop was 6 miles and incorporated both mountain bike trails and some horse trails too.
It was definitely an experience and I learned lots of stuff about endurance racing today.

On the first lap, everything was going well. I started out with a "controlled" pace that I thought I could keep up for the entire 6 hours which was the bulk of the advice I had gotten about solo races. It was all going according to plan. But, now as I am riding along, I hear the sound of a rider behind me. He/She is not asking to pass, not saying anything, just present behind me. I keep hearing that telltale buzzing of a single speed's free hub coasting. So I figure, I am going too slow, and not being one to inconvenience anyone, I pick up my own pace. A lot. So now I am hauling through the trail much faster than I wanted to and my brain is telling me that this is a big mistake.  Too fast. Must slow down. But, the other part of my brain was really enjoying the adrenaline rush of the fast speed so I  ignored the sensible part and continued pedaling. I kept this up until I got to a clearing of gravel which took me into the next trail section. I was not ready for the gravel and I hit it full force. As I did, my bike fork and front wheel compressed too deep into it and the bike slid out sideways nearly taking me down. Luckily I was able to recover without crashing. The two guys who were breathing down my neck slowed down to see if I was okay and also express their disappointment that their "pacer bike" had a mis-step. I yelled out: "Thanks, I am okay, GO, GO, GO!!!!". This was partly because I didn't want to slow them down for their lap, but mostly because I just wanted to slow my own pace back down and they were making that impossible. Hopefully they just rode off thinking that I was only looking out for them and weren't offended that I didn't keep riding with their little pack.

"You made the cutoff..."
So off they went. I regained my composure and got back on the bike to continue riding. This time though, I slowed down again as I think that near wipeout was the "fates" way of telling me that I should remember that I still have 5.5 hours of this left  and haven't even finished the first lap yet. I get close to the end of the 1st lap and that's where I see it. The steep uphill climb that I was warned about. I also notice everyone is walking up it and they look much stronger than me to begin with. At this point, my enthusiasm wanes a bit because I know I will have to do this hill over and over. So I groan a little and start the run down the hill to have a little momentum to push my bike up the other side. I nearly fall backwards as I am trying to make it  up and the hill just zaps a good portion of my energy. Ugghhh! I then hear someone behind me say that we can bypass that hill and  do an alternate route for a little longer distance, but easier approach. Longer distance! Easier approach! Sign me up! Needless to say, I would be doing the alternate route for the remainder of my laps. Wish I knew that before I slogged up this hill.. As I approach the very end of this 1st lap, there is this very hard (well for me anyway) super tight right turn switchback that you really have to slow down to clean. I overshoot it and have to then manhandle my bike into the right direction to aim through it going the correct way . You'd think I'd learn, but I did that stupid move on every single lap. I made the same mistake nine times.

So when I finished the first lap and passed the pit area,  my husband wasn't at the tent. He had actually just gone to take pictures of all the racers and hadn't gotten back yet.  I decided to do another lap and replace my water bottle on the following lap since I barely touched this water anyway.  As I am midway through my 2nd lap, I start noticing that the rear of my shoe keeps hitting my front chain ring. I have never had *that* happen before, but I figure it's just a fluke. As I continue to ride, it keeps happening. It finally dawns on me that perhaps my cleat is loose.  I turn my right foot to the outside and it turns 90 degrees, but does not release. I try a couple more times and realize that the cleat is now turning inside the pedal and I can't get my foot out. Panic is setting in because I am going pretty fast. So I slowly bring the bike to a stop, pull off the trail and try yanking my shoe out from the pedal. Finally, it releases and when I raise my foot, I see that one of the cleat screws is practically falling out and hanging by a thread and the cleat is all askew. I quickly grab the screw,  and pull a tool from my pack to re-tighten it. Of course the screw that came out is filled with dried mud so I have to find a small twig to start digging out the dirt before I can even use the allen key on it. Fortunately, in the woods, there are plenty of small twigs so I quickly found something suitable and got to work. I got my cleat sorted out and continued on to finish my lap. I made quick stop at my cooler to grab a clean water because my first bottle was now covered with dirt dust from the dry course conditions we're riding.  Lap 3 was uneventful and went off without any issues.. However, a fellow racer guy did pass me on the trail on this lap and  for some reason he decided to douse himself in so much cologne that I could smell him for like 1/4 mile after he passed me. It was an out of place smell  for the woods, and would probably be better suited for a night club. Honestly though,  it was sort of a nice fragrance so secretly I was happy that I got to ride through it for a ways.  Perhaps this is the "AXE" effect that those TV ads keep making claims about .

When I went in for lap 4, I noticed as soon as I was just far enough past my pit area and into the trail, my fork started feeling odd. I pulled over and tried compressing it. It would compress, but it wouldn't come back up. So I tried using brute force to at least get it to return back to fully uncompressed, but I couldn't get it to budge. I thought about going back and having my husband take a look at it. But, I would lose time if I turned around which I was hesitant to do. There was also the *tiny* possibility that my fork was working just fine and I was just delirious. If I went back and it turned out it was nothing, I would be kicking myself  for wasting precious time. I opted to just lock it out completely and ride it "as is" until I passed the pits again.  I mean there were a few racers out here who actually had rigid forks or were on cross bikes no less, so I  thought I could at least suck it up for the one lap. By the time I finished lap 4, I was also getting really hungry.  So the next time I pitted, I grabbed an almond butter on whole wheat sandwich and a Coke and started to chow down. That was a last minute idea and in retrospect, I am so glad I brought some real food other than Cliff bars. I told my husband that I thought that something *might* be wrong with my front fork and asked if he could take a look while I ate. He confirmed my suspicion that something was definitely not working and brought it to the tech tent for advice.  After realizing that somehow I had inadvertently messed with the rebound knob and making a couple minor adjustments to it, I was back on my way within 15 minutes now refueled and ready to go again. Each time I passed the pits now, I would replace my water bottle so I had a cold, clean one and not one that was matted in dirt. I swear I myself looked like a breaded chicken cutlet by the end of the race which gives you an indication of how dry the conditions were on the course.  My bike,  shorts, face and legs were covered in a fine layer of fresh dirt. Very attractive.

 I think that Coke did me well because I felt much stronger on lap 5. But by this time, the 3 hour racers came on the scene to begin their laps. New racers with fresh legs flying by me like I was standing still. Most...... demoralizing..... part..... of the race. There were times where I just wanted to yell out, "see my number plate is yellow not blue like yours. That means I have been racing for 3 hours already and YOU JUST GOT HERE HOTSHOT!!" But, I didn't. Fortunately, that tough guy alter ego stays inside my head and rarely gets to do any public speaking. Probably a good thing I would guess.

I also began to feel like I was getting lapped way more than I ought to be. And finally, my dumb blonde moment fog cleared and I realized why that was. While I was getting passed by the same jersey multiple times, it was actually a team and there was a gaggle of them. So it turns out it wasn't the same racer, just the same outfit that kept going by me. I guess in my multi-lap delirium, I could not deduce that little bit of logic. But, at least now I know for next time. Check.

My inspirational message to keep going
I made it all the way to lap 8 before I needed to eat a Gu gel to get me through it. I don't particularly like Gu so I have to really be in bad shape to eat one. I have a distant memory of a time where my riding group got lost in Arizona and I experienced my first case of " bonking". Someone gave me their Gu, but having no water to wash it down with made it a less than pleasant experience.  Anyway, back to the race. Also, by lap 8, I was reduced to putting my front chain ring into the granny gear to make it up the hills. At one point, I just decided to leave it there permanently because it was making so much grinding in the middle ring from how much dust had accumulated all over the drive train. By this time, I was pretty convinced I was finished and this would be my last lap. I also knew that there was a cutoff to make if I wanted to even attempt another lap to have that one count. I sort of milked lap 8 thinking that there was no way I would make the cutoff, and a big part of me was just looking for an excuse to end it after this lap anyway. No such luck. I passed the timing clock and the race organizer informed me that I "made the cutoff!" by 50 seconds and I was eligible to do another lap before the end of the race. Talk about your mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was super excited that I made it, but on the other, I just wanted to get this race over with already. Another lap was the last thing I planned to do. I passed the pits and I told my husband that I was done for the day. Finito, Kaput, Sayonara.  He looked at me and told me I could *not* stop now. I made the cutoff and really should do one more lap because I earned it. Then he threw in a few more "really motivating" reasons and I finally, but reluctantly, agreed. I knew he was right, so I went for it. I mean if I "earned" it, what else could I do? I had no choice after all.

I stomped on the pedals and headed out for one more lap. I also picked up my pace because a) I knew this really was my last lap and b) I didn't know how long I actually had to finish this lap and still have it count.

My 6 hour Award!!!! (No, that's not real gold)
I entered the course with one of the other solo women racers. At first, I was right on her tail as we weaved through the singletrack for our last lap each. I was actually thinking, hey I must be doing all right because this girl looks pretty fast. So she starts making idle chit chat and tells me she's never ridden this far before, blah, blah, blah. Finally she breaks the really  bad news to me. She asks:, "you've done 10 laps already right?" I replied incredulously:   "What? Oh no, I have done only 8 and this is my 9th". She then politely informs me that she is the only female with 10 laps and since she has first place in the bag, that if I want to pass her to go right ahead. Umm, yeah right, like I *could* pass her. In what universe? So I am wondering if this is some devious psyche out technique she is using to break my will? And that's when she took off. Her speed was like she just got on the course with fresh legs and she dropped me like I was waiting at a red light.  I reminded  myself that my goal was to just finish this lap as fast as I can to get back around so I can finally get some real food and drink and also not take so long that I miss the awards ceremony. So I picked up my own pace and rode as hard as I could until I crossed the finish line where I saw a fellow rider friend and my husband cheering me on with a photo finish. Okay, it wasn't a "photo finish" per se, but he took my photo as I finished, so there you go.

I ended up with 9 laps and a total of 54 miles. Most I'd ever done and I felt extremely stoked that I was able to complete the whole 6 + hours. Plus, I came in first in my division and I earned an award. Bonus!
Oh and that psyche out girl...she placed 1st with 11 laps and a total of 66 miles. Sixty Six!!! I am pretty sure she was actually an alien, but I guess I will never know. Can't wait for next year.

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