The truth is, I adore 24-hour mountain bike racing, because the experience can be anything you want it to be. If you want to get a bunch of your friends together and knock out some laps while you eat pizza and drink beer, you're welcome. If you want to don fairy wings and a tutu and race solo on a 37-pound fat bike, you're welcome. If you're a numbers geek who wants to test a well-crafted strategy, you're welcome. If you simply want to ride your bike a lot and feed your endorphine addiction, you're welcome. And if you want to race until your eyes bleed, you're welcome. I appreciate this democratic, free-spirited approach. The 24-hour race entices a full spectrum of enjoyable characters in a bike binging festival complete with live music, fire jumping and baked goods. Really, what's not to like?
Still, I didn't plan to sign up for the race this year for several reasons. First and foremost, my big event of the year — Racing the Planet Nepal — fell only two weeks later, and I was concerned about recovery. Not only that, but training for a self-sufficient stage race on foot really couldn't be more different than training for a 25-hour mountain bike race, and I wasn't about to cut into my Nepal preparations. Third, I felt my base was precarious at best, thanks to severe reduction in my bike mileage this year, the result of an uptick in running, travel and injuries. Fourth, if I crashed my bike or otherwise injured myself in a way that prevented me from participating in Racing the Planet Nepal, I would never, never forgive myself.
Bill Martin, was planning to return to Frog Hollow and never gave up on trying to convince me to join him. As began to plan logistics for traveling to Utah for my sister's wedding, I realized I wouldn't even have to necessarily go out of my way to make the trip. Then, to complicate matters, Beat — who has finished a couple of Racing the Planet events and knows exactly how tough they are — encouraged this inadvisable mountain bike diversion and even went so far as to sign me up in the solo women's category without my direct consent. Perhaps it was meant to be.
|Photo by Dave Nice|
The Jem Trail is actually the first piece of singletrack I ever rode on a mountain bike, on a borrowed Cannondale 12-speed way back in 2002. The trail is still every bit as thrilling and fun to me as it was back then. It flows across the plateau like a ribbon in the sand, contouring the rolling landscape with banked turns and a smooth surface that promotes high speeds. I could ride it fifteen times in a row happily, and ambitiously hoped to log this many descents.
I felt a huge burst of energy afterward and motored up the climb at full intensity, which was in all fairness about the same intensity I was holding at the beginning of the race. But by the time I hit the top of the final steep climb, I had become incredibly dizzy, to the point where I had to put my foot down and force deep breaths to collect my senses. I launched into the Jem Trail as nausea took over. I stopped pedaling and tried to coast but the bike seemed to slow to a stop, forcing me to pedal, as though the Jem Trail suddenly became a climb. A gradually downhill fireroad also forced what felt like maximum effort. By the time I reached the trailhead to the soul-crushing rocks, I was vomiting tuna and water everywhere. Instead of feeling better afterward, vomiting made me feel even worse. I relented to walking the three-mile rock section extremely slowly as most of the field passed me, asking me if I was okay. I said yes, but I was a mess.
I stumbled back to the pit at 7 a.m. and collapsed in Bill's camp chair while crying to Mo that I was so sick and couldn't even muster the wherewithal to stand up. She told me she had a bad feeling about the tuna and I acknowledged that her judgement was probably sounder than my own after 22 hours of riding. But regardless of any poor decisions I had made, it was too late to do anything about it now. I knew I had plenty of time for one more lap, but I was convinced I felt so bad that I would probably have to walk anything that wasn't solidly downhill, and there wasn't much of that on the entire course. Thirteen miles of slow pushing was going to take me ... well, it was going to take me a long time. And I unfortunately possess the mindset that 24-hour racing is supposed to be fun. When it stops being fun, my motivation withers entirely, even with a potential win on the horizon.
I went to lay down in my tent to see if that made me feel any better. Mo informed me when my chaser had passed through the timing tent and went out for lap fourteen. I felt this wave of relief, because even though it meant I had a real decision to make, it also signaled to me that any potential undeserved win had become impossible, because there was no way I was going to successfully chase down anyone. Not in my condition. Still, I was disappointed in myself, because I had encountered a real test, an extreme low point. Challenges like these are fundamental in my "me against me" racing motivation, and overcoming these challenges has proven to be my largest personal reward. This time, I chose not to battle my low point. Instead, I writhed in my tent and waited for 10 a.m.
second place behind Bec Bale, who won with fourteen laps and the new women's solo course record at 24:55. If I had gone out again, it's likely she still would have beat me; I was moving that slow at the time. After four hours of fasting I was able to take in some Nuun (electrolyte-laced water), and after another hour or so I started on the simple carb route to recovery. Based on the way I was feeling the following day, I concluded my severe nausea was a result of poor food planning that created an electrolyte imbalance. But who really knows? Maybe I had a bad can of tuna and genuine food poisoning. There can really be so many reasons for this type of reaction. All that really matters is how we confront the challenges that come our way.
Still, I am happy with the overall result of the race. I didn't think I'd actually get on the podium, let alone have a real shot at the win. And except for that last hour, I had so much fun. Bill ended up winning the men's solo race, in a rather incredible come-from-behind effort against fellow snow bike racer Dave Byers, who is one of the competitors I was looking forward to meeting. There's a good story there if Bill ever finds the time to blog about it.
Thank you to race director Cimarron and all the volunteers — an awesome group that included Fixie Dave Nice and Bill and Kathi Merchant — for sitting out all night in the icebox to make Frog Hollow the fantastic event that it is.