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.
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.