What I Learned From Riding My Bike for 6 Hours...

Well, officially I rode it for 5:58.30. I didn’t want to hook up my light for another lap, though that would have picked up at least one more place. Spending 6 hours pedaling around a cross-country course gives you a lot of time to think, and I picked up a few things:

  • Never, I repeat never go to the race without having the necessities to start on time.
  • Caffeine is a wonderful thing.
  • Cramps can be pushed through.
  • It’s damn fun to ride for that long…

First off, I convinced my parents that it would be fun for them to spend their entire Saturday being my pit crew at the race. They’d have water and food ready for me so I could eat, switch out bladders in my Camelbak, and be on my way. I got everything ready, and had the bladders on ice in the cooler that they took. They weren’t going to follow me directly, but I explained how to get there and my dad had already looked it up on a map. I got a call 15 minutes before start time, “I think we’re lost.” They had turned the wrong way on Highway 7 and were now about 20 miles away.

Where they were in relation to meFor those of you who don’t know the area, the map on the side shows where they called from, and where I was. Thankfully, the race started 5 minutes late because of some unexpected traffic delays. They pulled up as the whistle blew to start the race. I was the last one across the start finish line on my way to ride. It was a Lemans start - be we ran for a 1/4 or 1/2 mile to the bikes then started riding. I was still adjusting my Camelbak as I started running and once I got situated, I probably passed 15 people. Before I got to the single-track, I passed another half dozen, then got stuck.

The problem with starting at the back of a mountain bike race is that will invariably get in the single-track and get stuck behind someone who’s slow. Thankfully, most of them let everyone by within a couple hundred yards, but had I been ready to go at the start I might have been able to start a little faster. As it was, I turned in a sub-45 minute lap for my first lap which I was definitely pleased with since I started last. :)

Caffeine, the wonder drug

I knew this already, but it got reenforced yesterday. Caffeine is a beautiful thing. I should erect a shrine to the goddess of caffeine. I could pour out a little Red Bull or Mountain Dew every day and burn incense on the alter.

Seriously, after lap 6 I drank a 180 Energy Drink Sports Water. My last two laps had been 55 minute - cramps and all. Lap seven came in at nearly 45 minutes. I was still on the verge of cramping, but I was able to push a higher gear before my legs started to rebel. I doubt I could handle an energy drink a lap, but I could handle a Vivarin every lap or two. The kicker with caffeine for me is to manage the caffeine crash - when it wears off, if you’re still on the course it would be like bonking without the cramps or vomiting. I’d be going nowhere fast. Which brings me to…

Cramps, pleasantly intolerable spasms

I don’t cramp up. During all of the racing I’ve done, I only came close to cramping once, in my second race. On the average, I’ve drank 3 liters of water every day for the last 3 years. I’ve only been mildly dehydrated a couple of times during that period and only once or twice has it been on a bike.

But yesterday’s cramps weren’t about water. I was drinking enough and had drank enough the day before. These cramps were about raw energy. I didn’t eat right yesterday, and a little over 3 hours into the race I started to pay for it.

It started when I tried to stretch after lap three. My leg locked on me, and it took a few minutes of massaging to get it back to a semi-normal state. I knew if I could get it to move and get back on the bike I could spin it out quicker than just sitting there stretching it. Once I got back on the bike, I was fine until the last climb up to the Family Trail and my entire left quad screamed “NO!”. I had to walk it off, as my leg was not going to cooperate with this torture any longer.

But once I got passed that, I was able to keep my legs in check. They were on the verge of cramping laps 5 through 7, but by focusing away from the potential pain, I was able to keep them in check and keep moving. That’s the first time I’ve had to race where nearly half of the race is spent on the verge of cramping up - and hopefully it will be one of the last where it’s my fault.

Yesterday’s experience just reminded be exactly how important it is to eat right. Most people who are not involved in some sort of endurance sport think food is food is food. There’s a little difference between carbs and protein and fat to them, but little else. Race your bike for six hours and see if you still think that. So next big race like that, I’ll be eating a lot better the week before the race.

More fun than a T-Bird before her daddy took it away

After talking about three hours on the verge of my muscles exploding, you may find it odd that anyone can consider it better than a stay at Abu Ghraib with the reservists, but it was fun. There’s something about being on a mountain bike for longer than most people can sit still in a car that’s unbelievable. I’ve got a long way to go until I’m back to where I was physically a year and a half ago, but I’ll get there.

Thanks to the guys a Heartland for putting on a great race, and to my parents for playing pit crew for a day.