What, a bike race in 2020?! Say it isn’t so?!
Starting a “race season” at the end of June is something unheard of for me, as I’m usually racing March-December, if not all year around thanks to random fat bike races. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like 2020 would be the year that would mock me with the best fitness of my life with no chance to use it outside of Strava QOMs.
Thankfully, Bear Bait 8 was given the go ahead up in Casper for June 27th. Though field sizes were down, I was thankful for the opportunity to go ahead in race in a pretty microbiologically safe way, COVID-19 screening waiver and all.
This is my third year of entering the 8 Hour Solo category, but sadly no other women registered for this year so I really, in theory, didn’t have to try hard to win. But that thought is nonsense, so I decided to see how many of the men in the solo category I could beat and to actually earn my win, and get the most out of my entry fee.
The trails on Casper Mountain remain fantastic, and I settled into the course which was about a mile longer than 2019’s. 8 hours is a long time to ride a bike, so I reminded myself to pace at the beginning, letting the duo and team racers fight it out for the fastest lap award, as I tried to calm my asthmatic lungs in the dust. I turned a 49 minute first lap, which is about four minutes faster than my fastest 2019 lap, which puzzled me… it must’ve been a faster course, or maybe I was faster? (Or maybe both?)
Things went well for about the first three laps, and then the struggle bus arrived at the station. It was a hot one this year, with no typical cool temperatures and/or rain. Dry, hot, dusty. Everything ached. I started to realize everything I did wrong like a newbie (honestly, I really was out of practice on racing and preparing to race my bike this year). I wore carbon soled shoes… my feet can’t stand endurance mountain bike racing in carbon shoes (I usually wear decently cheap composite soled shoes for long MTB races). I realized this mistake on my second lap. I stupidly had my Brains on my Specialized Epic set pretty firm, and when I adjusted my front fork, I actually made it firmer, which killed my arms and hands on the rooty course. The heat made the flavor of my Tailwind mix very unpalatable. Ugh.
I stopped for a break after four laps, sitting down to enjoy an Uncrustable and a Red Bull, and this revitalized me. I felt spunky for my fifth lap, even after I had a wreck that was comical and really didn’t make sense (I punched a tree stump which flung me off the bike superman style, and I bounced. Literally bounced!). Sixth lap it all went downhill again, and I ended up sitting for a few minutes with my shoes off, massaging my combination numb and painful feet. I thought about quitting since I really didn’t need to keep going to “win.”
I took another break after my sixth lap, and decided to ditch the Camelback of Tailwind that I wasn’t drinking, and opted just to carry some SIS gels and a bottle of plain water. I drank a second Red Bull (this stuff is magic juice for racing, I swear! I learned Kate Courtney’s secret to success I think!). I took off, feeling revitalized once again, and a lot lighter without the Camelback on my back.
I can through at 60.9 miles, and 7 hours 44 minutes after my eighth lap and called it good. Because at Bear Bait 8 you can complete your final lap before or after eight hours, I could’ve kept going, but called it good due to the pain in my feet (if I didn’t have that pain, I would’ve entertained a ninth lap). This effort was good enough for the win in my field of one (ha ha), and also 5th in the men’s category, finishing ahead of two of the guys.
Whew, third Bear Bait 8 solo done and dusted, and all the random quirks of racing worked out! And unlike most races, I finished with the thought of “I’ll be back in 2021 for another solo!” Eventually I’ll learn to do a 4 Hour Duo, but until then….
- Pay attention to what shoes I grab. I haven’t worn my carbon MTB shoes all season, so why I grabbed them out of my car versus my composite pair was beyond me.
- Tailwind was mixed too strong for my taste buds this go around. This year I have been playing around with using SIS gels along with Tailwind for a better nutrition plan for gravel racing, so I think I should’ve mixed my Tailwind at about half strength so it would’ve remained more palatable (I mixed 700 calories in two liters, I think 300-400 would’ve lightened up the sugary flavor).
- Don’t ever, ever set the front Brain to nearly firm. Yeesh, Heidi. There’s even a sticker saying which way to turn it! I can’t believe I raced my bike for years with it set up like that, how awful!
- Starting my race season at the end of June is rough.
Lessons aside, still not bad for what is quite possibly my only mountain bike race for 2020 (but hopefully not the only race).