The 6 hour endurance race at Lock 4 in Gallatin, TN is one that I have competed in as part of a duo for the past two years. My different partners and I finished in the top two both times and I have strong memories of struggling to complete my share of three, non-consecutive laps. This year I decided to make a solo attempt and see if I could survive four laps of the technical terrain.
Each year I have knocked about a minute off my time for the 9 mile loop, and this year I was shooting for a lap or two in the 49 minute range. Even factoring in a few minutes for fatigue in later laps, I could logically complete six laps in the six hours, but didn’t really want to make that an expectation. Honestly I didn’t want that much stress in my life for an end of season race! I admit focus was not that great leading up to race day but I followed through with my usual physical and nutritional preparations and at least felt confident that I would enjoy a day of riding.
The morning started off a little rushed and a little chillier than I would have liked but once it was time to lay out our bikes and line up for the foot race (Lemonds style start) I was confident I had prepared myself well. The first few laps of an endurance race are like sprinting into a dark tunnel; you have little to no idea who you’re competing against, but you keep pushing the pace in order to give yourself a shot at being in the lead going into later laps. It was nice to see a number of female riders at the start line but there is no way to know if they are competing as a team or solo. I took off hard like I always do getting drawn in to the frenzy of male riders looking toestablish themselves early as well. Once we hit the first climb I reminded myself to control my breathing and focus on sequencing the elements of the trail. I knew from experience it would be pinnacle to my mental resolve to be able to ‘count down’ technical landmarks in later laps. My inner dialogue cycled between, “oh yeah I remember this,” and “that was sweet!” as I took note of six climbs and handful of technical sections that felt remarkably easier than I remembered.
Coming into the transition area for the first time I felt amazing! I was confident I had enough water to make it through a second lap and my homemade energy gel was keeping my energy stores up perfectly. I cruised right on past our team tent and embarked on an equally enjoyable second lap. As I came in for the second time I continued to feel energized and confident. I quickly switched out water bottles and gel flasks and headed into the woods for two more laps.
Still feeling good finishing up my third lap I allowed myself to mentally check into the race for the first time. By my computer my first two laps were both under 50 minutes and at a pace I felt I could stay pretty close to. I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt; pushing a good pace, staying technically sound and all the while staying clear of the pain cave. I was still smiling on the climbs and I soon realized I owed it to myself to shoot for five laps. Or more. My active goal was now to complete lap four by 1:30 pm. I would force myself to get off the bike, eat as much as I could, and then head out for two more laps. All laps had to be completed by 4pm in order to count. By making my self-imposed cut off time I would have a cushy 2 1/2 hours to pound out laps five and six. Now I was getting excited. Lap Four proved to be a little less smooth, perhaps because I was doing all these math calculations while I was supposed to be looking down the trail. My chain popped off four times and I was feeling my first twinge of fatigue. I decided that my chain was coming off after riding through rough terrain or launching off the ever-so-inviting jumps. I convinced myself to dial it back a bit and work on controlling my back-end more. This proved to be successful as I didn’t have any more mishaps. I continued to focus on riding smooth instead of fast and pushed myself to wrap up the 4th lap.
I came in ahead of schedule and promptly sat down to refuel my body. I refilled two water bottles, ate half a vegan power cookie, a pack of Clif shot blocks, and took some Sports Legs anti-cramping capsules, a personal favorite. As I mentioned earlier its hard to know where you stand throughout an endurance race like this. What I did know is that I had only been passed by one woman and based on the speed and ease in which she busted past me on a climb I concluded that she was either on a team, and therefore had much fresher legs, or she was far enough out of my league that it would have been futile to chase her down. I was also very confident in how I was riding and supremely motivated that I was on my way to completing six laps! I stuffed a bonk breaker bar in my jersey and after about 10 minutes of rest I decided it was time to get back on the bike. The refueling caused my body to explode onto the trail and I once again had to focus on riding smooth. My fifth lap felt almost as strong as my first lap and I grew more and more proud as I whizzed through the transition zone and started in on my sixth lap with almost an hour and a half to go.
I was very pleased with how my body was holding up and my mental resolve was doing remarkably well given the amount of time I had ridden the same terrain over and over. I used my counting down technique and really tried to savor the trail that I so rarely get to ride. I came across many riders that proved to be pleasant distractions to the monotony that always seems to sneak in to short and long races alike. I felt a slight up-tick in adrenaline each time I passed a woman and yet I somehow sensed that they were only on their fifth lap. I was confident that I was the only woman on track to complete six laps. If I wasn’t, well there certainly wouldn’t be time for another lap so it would have to do. I was soon within the last three miles of the finish and then after an eternity, there was just 100 meters of road to cover before I would be done. I sprinted through the timer’s table and pedaled to our team tent, looking around and for the first time taking in the beauty of the Lock 4 peninsula we were on.
This weekend I amazed myself. I felt my whole year of weight training, weekly mileage chasing, and diet transformation come together. I am extremely proud of my performance this weekend and hopefully picked up some lessons in striving to do my best, rather than obsessively worrying about what the outcome might be. Not only did I win the women’s solo category but I was also the only one in the field of five to complete six laps. My first two laps were both under 49 minutes and five of my six laps were faster than all of the other competitors laps. Going into lap five is when I rested for 10-12 minutes. I know what it feels like to be in awe of somebody’s lap times, but it’s truly surreal when they are yours for once. I couldn’t have done it without support from my sponsor Dan’s Comp and my Evansville Mountain Bike Association (EMBA) brethren that also showed up that day to throw down some impressive mileage. Our little club from the north took home 5 medals today! Thank you also to Biker’s Choice for continuing to put on a great endurance event each year and most importantly for the Stan’s Notubes wheel set for my first place prize! Maybe I’ll get cyclocross wheels. 😛