This past week weekend a few women from the club raced in the 4-hour Women’s Challenge at Hardwood Hills. I decided to give the event a try solo. Since last summer I have been craving doing races again, and even though this was a challenge versus a race, I just wanted to experience some of the race atmosphere. Over the past few years, I have moved from being a sort of endurance athlete to “an hour of power” kind of rider. I also prefer cooler temperatures, which is why I enjoy cross season in the fall. So 4 hours solo in the heat of summer was…um…a neat idea, I guess? I had done a couple of 2 hour rides at the Hydrocut this year. I’m sure I could do another 2 hours on top of that…
I am bad at taking pictures, but I did get a few. My solo name was “WCC Crazy Goose”. Shannon, a new member to WCC and new to mountain biking, rented a bike to do the event solo on Saturday. She has some great stories to tell about her event! I was hoping to meet up with her before the race to connect, unfortunately that didn’t happen. I did see her a few times on course, which was awesome. The start time was our own choosing between 9 and 10:45am and we timed ourselves. We had to start our last lap by the 4 hour mark and finish by 4 hours, 20 minutes. Laps were 6.5 km. I’m a bad morning person, but I’m also terrible in the heat. So I opted to wake up early to try to get started as close to 9am as possible so I could avoid riding as long in the heat.
During the first lap I really had to hold myself back from going hard. I’m used to attacking hills, seeing people ahead and trying to catch them, and pushing my pace. I knew I couldn’t do that this ride, but it was so difficult to hold back. The course was great! It began with a climb, as almost every mountain bike race does, and then moved into flowy single track with some rock gardens scattered around to keep things interesting. The downhills were fun, and I knew I could make up some time on those.
As a rider who usually maxes out at 2 hours, I’m not used to nutrition planning. Tom told me I should eat every hour. With that in mind, every hour I tried a bite of a Lara Bar. My stomach is not used to food during riding, so that was about all I could handle. I also forced myself to drink a lot more than I usually do on rides, though I definitely did not drink enough during the first hour. Next time, I’ll drink more earlier in the race. I’ll also try fresh dates instead of a bar.
The first two hours were pretty good. I was pulling off 19-22 minute laps and feeling okay. I was having fun and everyone was super positive on course. Lap 7, after the 2 hour mark, I stopped feeling okay. I took a short break, replaced my water bottle, drank some electrolytes and started off again. Lap 8 and most of lap 9 were okay again, but at the end of lap 9 I hit a wall. I had just past the 3 hour mark. I stopped again, had some more electrolytes, replaced my water and started out on lap 10. By this time the heat was brutal and I was really suffering. On lap 10, my time went up to 25 minutes. I was still able to ride flat and downhill sections okay, but uphills were slow and painful. I really wanted to do 12 laps, but during lap 11, all I could think about was my sandwich sitting in my car and how hungry I was. I decided I wanted that sandwich more than I wanted lap 12. I was also approaching the 4 hour mark and wasn’t confident that I could drag myself around for another lap without passing that 4 hour 20 minute mark. I finished 11 laps (66.5km) in 3:56:47. That put me in third place in the 35-49 category.
When I did decide to stop, I realized I wasn’t sure I could actually get off my bike. My lower back, legs and butt were quite stiff. I stood and waited until no one was watching before I ever so gracefully, stepped/fell off my bike onto the ground beside my water. I hung out there for a few minutes drinking everything I brought before making my way back to my car…to my sandwich!
My sandwich, despite being the least exciting sandwich ever (peanut butter and jam), was the most amazing sandwich I ever ate. I was so hungry and it was so delicious.
I’m happy I did the race. It was a great experience and I’ve always wanted to try a longer race solo. Along with me and Shannon who rode yesterday, Tina Eilers raced solo today. I have huge respect for those of you who race 8 and 24 hours solo. Anyone who has signed up for the Epic 8 hour at Hardwood in July is in for a good time. I do recommend you get there early because registration was slower than expected. But the course, if it’s anything like the 4 hour, will be so much fun!