Hey, what’s the best way to start off mountain bike race season?! 57 miles at Bear Creek Lake State Park for Battle the Bear!
So, I don’t always have the best ideas 🙂 In my defense, Battle the Bear would be one of the first opportunities to race a mountain bike this year in this region. Since I have a lot of long endurance races on the plate and I knew I didn’t quite have the “Race 30 miles flat out on this course that favors power” fitness, I chose the marathon, or 57 mile, option. I hadn’t raced at this venue since 2014, but at least was familiar with it and it’s conditions. Yep, I totally understestimated how hard it was to do 57 miles there!
I opted to race age group, and all of the age group women would start together. From the start we formed a pack of maybe 6 or so that stuck together as we wound through the trees in the single track along the creek. I really like this portion of the course as it’s fun, has shade, and thanks to recent rains the dirt was tacky in the corners. First lap would spread out a bit more once we popped out of the trees, but I was still sitting in second and felt like I was riding strong. In an unlucky moment probably a mile or so before the finish of the lap my chain would bounce off on the pedal side, and I had to stop to get it back on, and a girl from my age group would pass me, putting me in 3rd place. Dammit!
Second also went well… but all I could think in the bright sun was I have three more laps of this shit?!
Herein lies the problem with marathon/endurance races in a multiple lap format: you get the privilege of riding past your car, expo area, cold drinks, shade, people relaxing over and over and over. And by privilege, I mean the horror and frustration of riding past your car, the expo area, cold drinks, shade, and relaxing people over and over and over.
Urgh. I like races where I know the only practical way back to my car and the only way to see my car again is to continue on for another 50 miles down the trail.
Third lap done… fourth lap done. Occasionally passing age group men that I catch, and getting passed by the fast pro/age group men. It’s hot, over 80 degrees. My knees felt like rotten watermelons, or at least what I assumed a rotten watermelon would feel like. My hands felt like they were blistering (don’t wear brand new gloves during a 57 mile race… like I did). I came across that start/finish line for my fifth and final lap, and gave it one big sigh and set out for the final 11-12 miles. Meh.
This lap I started catching kids in their race, which can sometimes be a hairy experience. I followed one little girl on a fat bike up a decent hill, and she stood up and sprinted up it out of the saddle. OK, thanks for making me feel super slow, little fat bike rockstar as I chugged up in my granny 40t cog and baby chain ring. I caught another girl on another big climb and told her that her pace was great and that I had already rode 50 miles so I didn’t need to pass. She paced me quite well up the hill, but I gave distance on the descent, which was lucky because she had a big crash. I stopped and grabbed her bike out of the trail and then scooted her out of the way of descending boys. Little kids are so brave as you could tell she was fighting back tears, but was saying she was OK. I got her back up on her bike and we set out on our own separate ways to finish our races. Lost a few minutes, but at that point I really didn’t care.
I continued on, trying to finish strong. About halfway through this final lap my Camelback gave me that final slurp of my Tailwind mixture and then air. I finally managed to drain my pack during a race! I had an entire bottle of Tailwind on my bike (already had drank my bottle of pure water), but the idea of 85 degree liquid didn’t seem appealing so I’d ride the rest of the race with an intense desire for cold water… even considered drinking out of the creek, weighing the symptoms of giardia vs the satisfaction of cold water.
I limped up Mt Carbon one last time and then onto the bits of single track that take you in the opposite direction of the finish and then back around. A junior girl racer came up behind me leading up to the most “technical” section of the race, which was just a very short, steep downhill with slight rocky ledges to drop off of. Had to laugh as I dropped my saddle and bombed down it and railed the left hand corner at the bottom, which means I dropped the junior racer for a total of 15 seconds until we came upon the hill to climb up to the finish. Hey, gotta succeed on the parts that are still an advantage to me in my old age and higher weight! Haha!
It was probably the most pathetic of all my race finishes, as usual I can sprint, or smile, or something, but I soft pedaled up to the finish and was oh so relieved that the 4 hours and 57 minutes of Battle the Bear was finally over! First stop? The water tank with ice cold water:D
I would end up finish 3rd in my 19-34 women’s age group, and was satisfied that I finished under 5 hours and wasn’t the last off the course. To me it’s early season, and I was coming off a lot of fatigue and achy knees from a tough gravel grinder and 10.5 hour training week leading up to the race. I knew mentally I wasn’t very motivated, mostly due to the heat and multi-lap format. One thing that was awesome is I didn’t not stop during this race except for a 15 second mental reset where I told myself to pull up my big girl pants and stop whining, and then while I helped the little girl who crashed. Usually during my longer races I stop at aid stations, so this was something new as I wasn’t off the bike probably more than 2 minutes tops the whole race.
Nutrition strategy: My egg white McMuffin was cold by the time I went to eat it, so I literally only had a hash brown and latte for breakfast (can’t do cold eggs texture wise). I ate a Larabar pre-race, and immediately took a Honey Stinger gel with caffeine while staging. I might’ve been slightly freaking out about my complete f-up of breakfast (I was a hot mess in my lack of preparation for mountain bike racing).
During race nutrition was 2 liters of water with Tailwind caffeinated green tea endurance fuel mixed in my Camelback. I also consumed a 21 ounce bottle of plain water, and one Clif pouch of mango and banana. No hunger, no growling stomach, no cramps! Once again another long race fueled perfectly by Tailwind!
I rode my 2016 Specialized Epic Expert Carbon, which is my primary race bike. First ride on my new Maxxis Ikon tires, and though I went on the high end of the tire pressure range, they gripped and I was able to have fun in the twisty single track! ESI limited edition purple chunky grips were under my hands. Love this bike for the ability to carry two bottles, so I could have plain water and also a back up bottle of Tailwind for if/when I drained my pack. And having the 2×11 drivetrain was great as I went from big ring power climbing to spinning my granniest of gears.