Endurance mountain bike racing is a blast. Yesterday, I raced my first 6 hour mountain bike race called The Big Ring Challenge in Hayesville, NC. It had rained the day before and there was a major downpour about 30 minutes before the start, but the rain did not deter the die-hard racers. There were probably 250-300 starters. It was definitely going to be a long and sloppy day in the saddle. We were all together at the start and they moved us up about 50 feet to the loud screeching sound of wet disc brakes rubbing together and a collective laugh from the crowd.
English: BC Bike Race 2010 – Day One – Nanaimo, BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The gun went off and we were off. I let the speedsters go ahead and settled in to a rhythm early on. There was no sense in going out fast and burning the legs. Slow and steady and leave the kick for later in the day. The first few miles a lot of riders were together, but the pack spread out quickly and by mile 6 there was plenty of room between everyone. I found a couple of guys from the 9 hour race and settled in with them. We kept up a good pace for two laps together, but never went in to overdrive and my breathing and heart rate stayed even and consistent. The first 2 laps were really slick, but the trails began to dry very quickly each hour. By hour 3, most of the trails were really smooth and tacky. Only one climb at the end of the loop stayed soopey the entire day. It was about a half mile section that you could slowly grind out. The rest of the trail was fast and smooth and it was amazing how effortless the ride began to feel the longer the day went on. I stopped every two laps and cleaned and lubed the chain, grabbed a new bottle of Infinite, peed and drank a bottle of Ensure. Ensure is the new secret fuel for endurance racing. It keeps people in nursing homes alive, so I am convinced. I used it during the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race (PMBAR), and it kept me going then for 80 miles and 12 hours. Today’s race was no exception and I know it helped tremendously. It has 350 calories in 8 ounces and is loaded with vitamins and minerals, and you don’t have to keep it cold. My stops were about 4 minutes at the most and I refueled, peed and took off. The chain cleaning took the most time after the first two laps as mud was everywhere on the drivetrain. I am glad I took the time for this necessity. I knew that it would help later in the day. I heard a lot of people’s dry chains really squeeking later in the day, so for me it was worth the extra time. After the first two laps, I really settled in for the long haul. You get in to a natural rhythm after a while and your body and mind really start to get in sync. I just kept it up and as the trails were drying I really started to enjoy the flow and fast descents. I got really in tune to the twist and turns of the trail and the bike and body were merging with the smooth natural rhythm and motion. Everything gets shut out during these times and you merge with the trail, your surroundings and the moment. As the day went on there seemed to be fewer people on course and I was digging the solitude. When you would come across someone, most people would chat for a while. There was a common bond out there that you don’t get during shorter races. Everyone was happy and laid back. We would talk about where we were from, our mental and physical state at the time, bike stuff, etc. No one ever seemed to complain and everyone seemed happy. Endurance racing breeds a different crowd, one that is more laid back and generally easy-going and supportive. If anyone was pulled over, everyone asked if they needed help or if they were ok. I like that about this sport, the camaraderie. My 3rd, 4th and fifth lap went really well. I had kept about an hour pace per 11 mile lap throughout the entire race. I went over the line on my 5th lap in 5 hours 10 minutes, and decided to call it a day. I did not think I could pull off a 50 minute lap on lap 6. You had to have all laps completed to count. My fastest lap was 56 minutes on lap 2, so I reluctantly stopped for the day. I was happy with the result and learned I got 8th place in the sport men. Only 5 people got in 6 laps it turns out and maybe 4 of us got 5 laps, so I was happy with that result. I was bitten by the endurance bug this day, and I think I will do this again. There is such a great community of bikers and people in the endurance scene. I have never seen so many smiling faces purposely paying money to suffer and ride all day in the saddle. When everyone is in it together the pain melts away and it is just a common experience of joy and mental fortitude. It is amazing what the human psyche is really capable of doing when we explore the limits of human endurance. We dig deep and push through and adversity is just dealt with and we move on. There are no hang ups, just adjustments and perseverance. What noble traits these races bring out in the human experience. What a beautiful thing to experience the wonders of a human-powered machine combined with a steadfast mind. More please.
Seeing that it rained for two solid days leading up to the Killer 3 Mountain Bike Race, I knew it was bound to be a typical mud fest in the South. I couldn’t have been farther from the truth in that prediction. It did not stop raining untill 5:30 AM the morning of the race. I knew this fact because I unwittingly drank way too much water the night before, and was waking up every two hours to relieve myself and heard the incessant downpour pounding the rooftop. It was like a maIstrom outside and I was dreading even getting up out of bed. I imagined long sections of pushing the bike in the mud and a slow, slippery course. Luckily, the soil around Poinsett State Park and Manchester State Forest is very sandy, almost beach-like in its texture, and absorbs water faster than a wet vac on steroids. The course actually turned out to be ideal. Locals said the rain is nice because it packs the soil down smooth. The sometimes loose, sandy turns become consolidated and ride like the hard-pack, groomed trails one could find in areas like Bent Creek in Asheville. Arriving at the park an hour and forty-five minutes before my start time, I saw the CAT 3 (Beginner) class start right at nine. I thought they might delay the start, but there was no need. I geared up, signed in, and began my warm-up ride around nine forty-five. I wanted to check out the start of the course and rode the first single-track section, which was a short and gentle climb 100 yards after the start. The trail really was drying fast. How was it possible? In another hour the course would be completely dry, ideal for racing. The start of the race was pretty typical. I was in the largest class, the 40+ CAT 2 (Intermediate) men with 29 starters. I was flashing back to races from my early days in Colorado, where 100 starters was very typical. Well, it was going to be a long day in the saddle, so I started conservatively and let everyone gun for the first single-track. I knew the field would spread out in due time. After around ten minutes, the group was still together and we were all there. One guy from a later starting class caught up to the pack and was yelling for everyone to get out-of-the-way. He was downright rude and was cussing at twenty guys to move over. There was a very heated exchange of words going on in the pack of riders. I was just laughing the entire time saying things like,”this is supposed to be fun guys”, ”what a beautiful day to ride” and “loose the drama”. No one budged and the man grew increasingly agitated. He finally managed to pass a few of us at a wider section of trail and crashed hard about fifty feet later. Karma is a funny thing isn’t it? I really don’t understand the fuss. Back in Colorado, if a faster rider came along at a quick pace and the trail was too narrow to pass, they just bashed through off trail and passed. It was not a big deal. I am all for letting people pass and I always try to yield to faster riders, but sometimes there is just not room to move out of the way. Someone should not have to stop their race just to let another rider pass. Narrow single-track is one of the realities of mountain bike racing and people need to learn patience or learn to pass on the side of the trail. The drama has got to go. Well, after around ten minutes, the field was sufficiently spread out and we were all free to ride without the drama queen rants from the bunched up start. The sun started to shine and the single-track was getting nicer with each mile. Poinsett State Park is a really beautiful, unique area in the South. It is full of very large oak and pine trees and they are all draped in Spanish Moss that hangs down like the beards of wise men from old. It sways in the wind and creates a sort of eerie calm in the deep woods. It is inviting and reminds one of the old South. On numerous occasions the stringy moss latched on for a ride on my handlebars and I literally became part of the woods. There were a lot of tight, curvy sections of trail and you had to manuver very quickly to avoid the trees which were everywhere. After the race I heard many people say they hit trees with their bars and crashed. I was glad I pre-rode the course and knew to slow down during the tight sections. I was really enjoying the day, and the riding and views in the woods were spectacular. I ended up riding with one guy the entire race named Rob. He had just gotten back into racing like myself and we were very evenly matched up. We played cat and mouse the entire day and chatted the entire time, which is quite unusual. I would try to shake him and he always caught up. I tried to lose him on the second lap, but ended up pacing him and another rider from the 30-39 class for the last nine miles. I was pulling hard trying to shake them, but never could open a gap. The last three miles was a flat forest road, and I thought I could break away at that time. On the first lap, I managed to get some time on Rob and went into the single-track with a small gap. Then I nailed a tree with my bar and crashed fairly hard, and my chain sucked between the frame and chainring. I managed to get it free, but Rob passed me. For two miles, I had to push hard to catch up. I caught him and began the long nine mile pulling of the two riders and unfortunately did not leave enough gas for the final sprint. On the fire road, Rob passed me and I could not keep up. Pacing for nine miles and sprinting for two miles earlier fried my legs and they could not kick for the sprint. I conceded a place to Rob and managed to get 13th out of 29 starters for the first race of the Southern Classic Mountain Bike Point Series. I finished the 30 mile course in 2:29 with an average speed of 11.8mph. I was happy with the finish and as always gained a lot of valuable experience. Rob and I talked for a while after the race and we laughed about our day. It was a real treat to actually race against someone and to be pushed to try hard. So many times in a race you are alone and don’t know what is going on in front and behind. It was really nice to be racing with someone who was out to have fun like myself. We chatted and laughed the entire day and had a blast. The beauty about the veteran class is that everyone is so chill and is just out to have fun in the woods. It is not about ego and all about the win. It is about experience, pushing through personal limits and barriers, being in the woods and having fun on two wheels that are powered by your own legs. I look forward to the rest of the series and can’t wait untill next weekend at The Shootout at Angler’s Ridge in Danville, Virginia. Don’t you just love the names of races in the South?
Have you ever been afraid to try something new, or been afraid to take action because of the fear of failure? We all have fears and yet some people learn to live with them and overcome them, while others are paralyzed in their presence. Personally, I am afraid almost everyday, yet I still get up and face these fears and even overcome them once in a while. Fear can lead one to action. Once on a rock climb I was getting tired beyond belief and was moments away from falling. There was a jagged ledge below and hitting it in a fall could have been deadly. But somehow, the fear lead me to a do or die action, and I carefully placed my foot on solid holds, breathed in a deep breath, cleared my head and made the move to safety. In that moment, fear led me forward and I used it to take appropriate action. I remember being afraid to leave Boulder, Colorado for my first teaching job in California. I was scared of moving across the country and failing at the job. But I knew the kids there needed me, and I knew I could help students there find their way. I was sad to leave the mountains, yet happy for newness. In life you must always try to grow and seek new pastures or else you will surely fade away with the setting sun. I remember being afraid to take up mountain bike racing again at age forty. I wanted to see if I could rise to the challenge, because it had been fifteen years since I raced in Colorado. I started training relentlessly and went to my first race in Danville, Virginia last October. I was scared beyond reason and my nerves leading up to the race were overwhelming me. I could not sleep for two days before the race and I kept catastrophizing bad situations that would happen during the race like getting a flat or crashing and getting hurt. It turns out that after five minutes of racing it started to rain like a monsoon in Thailand. It rained hard for an hour and the course was a slop fest. But halfway through the first lap, I said to myself, “race your own race, it is just for fun.” I finally calmed down and just started having fun. I remember there was a woman who had tunes blaring from her I-Phone and she was just singing along with the music and having a blast in the rain. I rode with her for a while and realized that really this endeavor was just for fun, and to try not to be so serious. I pushed through the fear and started to have the time of my life. Funny thing though on the second lap my front brake cable broke so I had only a back brake for nine miles in the mud soaked, slippery course. But I kept going and finished the race. I even took ninth place and still beat two people in my age class. Wow, how was that possible? Fear in that instance turned to action, and in the end I had fun and learned many lessons about living. When you can turn fear into a motivator, life begins to reward you. You realize that all things are possible and failure can happen, but it is all right. If you fail at something, that is just an opportunity to try it again in a new way. As Randy Pausch said in The Last Lecture, ”Brick walls are there for a reason…’they’ are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” Do you climb over the wall, do you dig a hole and go under it, or do you take a brick out and go through it? Challenges are stepping-stones to action and trying new things in new ways. If we never tried new things and stepped out of our comfort zone, we would never grow. So think about whether fear is holding you back from realizing your true potential. It is all right to have fear, but try not to let it overwhelm you to the point of non-action. When you face life directly and go out there and live and not hide from life, life will truly reward you for your efforts. I have learned so many life lessons simply by action and failure. Get out there and try something new. Climb a mountain, write a story, ride your bike, communicate to a distant family member, ask a girl or guy out to the movies, dream big, travel, live life. Take your next step. In the end, only good things will come to you.