I can’t believe its already come and gone! In February, August 1st seemed so far away. It felt like I had all the time in the world to train. In the beginning the training didn’t feel difficult. Three rides a week, how hard could that be? As the workouts got more intense, they often felt like a burden to get done. After each completed workout, though, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had worked through the mental block and was getting stronger.
The week before the Laramie Enduro we tapered off our workouts to make sure we were well rested. We were not going to increase our fitness anymore in 5 more days. It was a chance to mentally prepare. I did a few rides with my friend Angie that were FUN. Yeah, they were workouts, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. Those were the ride that ultimately prepared me for the race because I felt both physically and mentally strong.
On Thursday before the race, we had a team dinner at a local Italian restaurant. I was reminded of the first time I was in a room with this same group of people and they all felt like strangers. On that day they felt like friends, like a new family. We had spend hours together every week. There were smiles, tears, frustration, laughs; truly the whole spectrum of emotion.
Angie, our teammate Nola, and I drove up to Laramie on Friday night before the race. Unlike a few previous races, I wasn’t camping. I didn’t have to worry about being cold and stiff all night. Don’t get me wrong, I love camping…just not before a race. We headed to bed early making sure all of our gear was ready for race day. Our goal was to get up around 5am to head to Curt Gowdy State Park where the race was being held, but somehow we ended up with someone else’s wake up call at 4am, so that threw us both off a little.
Race mornings are always a little chaotic. Different people handle the stress and anxiety of “game time” differently. I think in the moment before competition I usually get pretty quiet and to myself. The people who feel the need to stress out loud make me anxious, so I try to avoid them. We met our coach at 6:30am to warm up for the official 7am start. The women’s wave was the last to go at around 7:25, so there ended up being a lot of standing around. I worked my way to the outside of the pack before the start so I didn’t get run over. It was a pretty decent plan because I pretty quickly became the last person. I had been riding last in most of our group rides, but I thought surely I wasn’t going to be last out of the whole race. I was wrong, but ok with it. I sat back and rode for me. I knew that people were going to go out too hard and burn out. My goal was to ride sure and steady and that’s what I did.
Start to Aid Station 1: 16.7 miles
For the most part this section was on dirt roads. We rode across a ridge that had gradual climbs and descents then made a right hand turn and headed down towards the plains. This part of the trail was a short section of single track where I was able to pass a few people. Once the down hill started, I was thinking “this race is great its all down hill.” I knew better of course, I had looked at the map. This course can be explained by the old adage “what goes up must come down;” when there was a decent there was surely to be a climb. Lucky for me though, the climbs were just long slogs of dirt road and not technical single track. I arrived at Aid Station 1 feeling great. There were a few of my fellow BRUTE Squad members there which made me feel not so far behind. I also reminded myself that there were two people behind me (my competitive side). I was officially not last and that kept me motivated to keep going. I had some rice crackers, a few Honey Stinger Chews, and Skratch Labs electrolytes. I was feeling good from a nutrition standpoint. I had seen the course map and thought the first aid station was at 12 miles, but looking at the map now it was actually 16.7! My computer had stopped working exactly 35 seconds into the race, so I had no gauge of distance or heart rate while riding.
Aid Station 1 to Aid Station 2: 30.5 miles
Leaving aid station 1 was a long gradual (but annoying) climb up a dirt road into the wind. It was not hard, but I could feel my slowness (of lack of fastness to be less negative). I couldn’t see anyone in front of me, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to let those two people behind me catch me! At some point my lower neck and between my shoulder blades started to bother me. I must have adjusted my seat and it was a little too high, and I paid the price. This section of the course had a lot more single track. It was the kind of terrain where you have to get out of the saddle, so the pain in my neck and shoulders intensified. I walked more than I would have liked, but I knew (at least thought) that the next aid station was close. My goal was to make it to the next aid station without ending up last in the race again. The aid station never seemed to come, but all of a sudden I made it! The aid station volunteers had started cleaning up, but I was so excited to see them! I ate some fresh water melon and M&Ms and continued to hydrate. I asked the volunteers what the next section of the course was like and they said it was pretty open roads and not super technical. I had a little over an hour to make the time cutoff. I also talked with a few racers who had decided to DNF and not continue on. It was refreshing to hear people say “its just not my day.” I think I expected people to have profound reasons, but they didn’t. I had been riding with a sense of “lack of accomplishment” this summer, so I was determined to keep riding through the negative and irrelevant thoughts. Just as I was about to leave the girl who was behind me arrived. She looked pretty miserable, but like me, was determined to continue on. After a few more minutes of recovery at the aid station we decided to try to beat the clock to the next aid station.
Aid Station 2 to Aid Station 3: 40.75 miles
Gayle and I headed out towards aid station 3. It was around 11am, so the mid day heat was starting to set in. Fatigue was at bay after a handful of M&Ms. We were moving. It was downhill and we were on our way. I had worked through the negative “I hate this” phase of the end of section 2 and was that much closer to my goal. I knew going into the race that 70 miles was not realistic for me, so I had set a goal to get to aid station 4 at 52.5 miles. Knowing that I was getting closer to that lifted my spirits. Riding with someone and just having a conversation made this section really enjoyable and memorable for me. This 12 miles was full of adventure. We had to ride around rednecks having fun on their 4-wheelers, ride through cow pastures, mud bogs and try to out ride the sweep behind us. The worst part about being last on a course is that by the time you get to certain parts of the course, they are super rutted out. We came across the first bog crossing and I was leading and my tire went deep down into a mud hole. I was able to stop myself from going over my handle bars, but it was a close call. Gayle went around me and wasn’t so lucky when her front tire went into a hole before a makeshift bridge at the water crossing. It was one of those falls when your first reaction is to laugh, but then you realize the person might actually be hurt. I don’t think the fall its self was all that bad, but 30 miles into a bike ride when you’re already tired is draining. Covered in mud and scratches we were caught by the sweep. We knew we were last, they knew we were last, but they also knew that we had time to get to the next aid station. So, they followed us at a distance making climbs we struggled with look super easy. We came across a few camp tents that looked like they could be the aid station from a distance, but it started to seem like a mythical place. When we came to the last climb we had 15 minutes to make the time cutoff and less than a mile to ride. Knowing that exhaustion had taken over and I didn’t want to ride through the aid station, I just made it my mission to go as hard as I could up the last hill to the aid station. With 7 minutes to spare, I made it. 40.75 miles. The longest ride I have ever done.
I got a ride back to the start/finish line with one of the volunteers. We had a great chat about the race and the town of Laramie. It takes a special kind of person to volunteer for endurance races, and I have never appreciated their presence more than I did during that race.
I had a lot of time to think about my race as I waited for my teammates to come across the finish line. Part of me was disappointed in not making my adjusted goal. Mostly, though, I was proud of how far I have come. I have to remind myself that I learned how to mountain bike last summer after a major back injury. Throughout the season I had issues with my back and the mental toughness that goes along with endurance sports. Just a few weeks prior I didn’t even want to start the race. I had been in pain and knew I wasn’t going to finish the 70 miles. I adjusted my goal, which still pushed my limits and still did pretty darn well. It was refreshing to hear after the race that the section between aid station 3 and 4 was pretty miserable. It was lots of climbing and really exposed in the mid day heat. So while it wasn’t my favorite decision to stop, it was the smart decision so as not to get hurt. With all of that, I still showed up at the start line and rode the longest distance I have ever ridden!
What I liked most about this “race” was that it felt more like a ride to me. During both the 18 Hours of Fruita and the PV Derby I constantly had people passing me, which is hard when you are giving it all you have and people fly by you like you aren’t moving. Those people were so far in front of me I was able to just worry about me. There were a lot of irrelevant thoughts that went through my mind, but I feel like I did a good job of pushing them to the side.
It is still hard for me to believe its finished! For 16 weeks we trained our bodies and our brains. Now, I go home from work and can do nothing. Eventually I will start going to the gym again, it’s just an interesting feeling to not have any obligations. I don’t think I have the attention span to do long distance events in one discipline, so I think I might set a goal to do an Xterra off-road triathlon. I will have to work on the running and the swimming, but before you can hate one leg you’re onto the next. We’ll see….
The biggest lesson I want to share: Ride with Gratitude. I am lucky to be able to afford the gear and ride in incredible places with really cool people!