This year for the Burning, I went for the full 12 hour solo race. Again. Apparently I just didn’t learn from last year. Or maybe I did.
Going into the race, the biggest drain on my confidence was actually my bike. In my mind, I knew the pain, the tired legs, the tired feeling, and the mental effort that may be required during the race. Two of the last three rides on my bike, I had trouble with the derailleur hanger. Back in June, I had to get one replaced after a crash and then in training for the Burning I bent another. Two rides later the hanger snapped in two and I had to singlespeed my bike to make it back to the car. The bike was fixed by the stellar wrenches at Mesa, so it was ready to go. But in the back of my mind, I had this picture of something going wrong.
The plan was to hit out on 3 laps with only breaks to grab food/new bottles. After that, I hoped to stay on the bike but take a few longer breaks.
Things went well on the first two laps. I kept the pace reigned in, drank water, ate my food. The race unfolded as I had imagined.
During Lap 3, I made it around half of the lap and realized I didn’t have my lap food. I don’t know if I dropped it at some point (it’s been known to happen) or just never even packed it, but this was bad. Already four hours into the race, 6-7 miles from my food and one monster climb. My energy was draining and my head was spinning. By the time I hit the campground climb, I had no juice left and was light headed, so I walked from the switchback to the top. Immediately I ate a bunch of solid food and hoped it wouldn’t be too much at once.
I still was reeling from lap 3 and it was difficult to get back in the “zone”. But by the time I came through for lap 5, things were feeling better. My confidence was coming back and I was riding everything (that I was riding that day).
Lap 6 came around, I put my light on my helmet and took off. Running through some lap calculations in my head, I thought I would be coming back after 8pm and therefor was a bit resigned to just finishing 6 laps (my goal, afterall). While on the “woods climb”, I stopped to turn on my light as I forgot to plug the cable into the battery (smart!). Along the way, a friend prodded me into thinking about lap 7.
The campground climb at night is a strange beast. While you can see others ahead of you climbing, my light would only light up a certain amount of the trail making it seem to be neverending. At the top of the climb I ran through the timing station and realized I had come in at 7:45pm. There was no way out now, I had to do a seventh lap. I fueled up and thought that this wasn’t going to be too bad. Just another lap. I’ll get in around 10-10:30pm.
I spun down the trail with decent spirits, but soon energy, and mostly mental confidence was failing. There were times I was surprised that I was still able to ride this or that. My hands were in pain with hot spots and at least one blister. My knees were aching from sitting and pedaling all day. There were times where I had trouble getting my feet back in the pedals. Everytime someone would pass me at night, I told myself I was the last person on the trail. And when another person would pass, I would think now I really am the last person.
I had just left the beach and I heard the awesome campers there cheering as someone else with through (these people had been cheering loudly ALL day… it was impressive). I thought to myself let’s see if I can get to the boat launch before they catch me. I just one that little “race” and they passed me as we approached the campground climb.
I had done it. It was difficult to think that while riding this climb. It wasn’t really till I reached the crest of the hill that I began to think about how I was only a couple hundred yards from being down. I emerged from the woods and TTM cheered me on to ride through the arch and I was finished. A few people came up and congratulated me and Mitch mentioned that I had fifth place. That took a minute to understand.
Endurance racing is mostly just how long you can push yourself. There were very strong and very fast riders who finished their race early. Pushing on for a seventh lap just gave me an edge (I would have been 8th with 6 laps). It felt great to finish seven laps, my longest mountain bike ride ever at 91 miles. There were some many good stories to learn about from the other soloists and the team riders. So many friends took home buckles and prizes. It’s easy to see that it’ll take a lot of work to beat many of these riders on a good day. Or even a slightly better day. But I love that challenge!