I can’t remember the last time I even rode my bike for 6 hours. I’ve done plenty of 3 and 4 hour rides, the occasional 5 hour training day, but 6 hours? Thats just too long. Or is it?
This year I want to push myself harder – set higher goals, ride more miles, win bigger races. In order to do that, I have to do things that push me out of my comfort zone. That is why I decided to sign up for this pre-season endurance test: the Green Gobbler 6 Hour. Taking place on January 13th, this is a pretty early race to be preparing for. However, until the night before, I didn’t even think I would be able to go. Finding out that my previous work commitment was cancelled, I decided to pack my stuff that night, make the 6 hour drive to Georgia, sleep a mere 6 hours, and wake up early to race 6 hours that next day. 666… not a great combination to start off the race 😉
Despite the rushed decision to attend, the 6 hour event was one of the most rewarding races I’ve ever done. I wasn’t able to prepare for the race like I had wanted, but that left me with a refreshing mentality to just do the best I could and see if I could surprise myself. This race is the first of the Southern Endurance series races, so I will have plenty of other chances to improve as the season goes on. I looked at this race as a starting point and a learning experience, as well as a chance to remember my passion for the sport and push myself further.
On the start line, I greeted the four other women in my category. One of them is a fellow teammate on my new team JA King. I am extremely excited to be joining with them this season, and it has been a dream of mine to be on an open team like theirs. I wore the kit with pride in my first race representing them, and hope that I can do it justice during the rest of the season.
As we waited for the start, I thought about how different this would be from the races I am used to. In cross country and short track, the start is everything. Getting the whole shot into the woods first means that you have a much better chance at staying in the front until the finish. However, these are short events compared with a 6 hour race, so I did not think we would be racing at full gas off the start. I was very wrong.
In 6 hour events, the usual structure is a race to see how many laps you can do in 6 hours. If your final lap is even a few seconds over the 6 hour mark, it does not count. I figured I would go hard to get a good position for the first lap, settle in and pace myself for the next few hours, and then try to get a strong finish for the last lap. However, as the gun went off I was surprised by how quickly everyone started their laps. I hung onto the wheel of a woman in my category, watching as my heart rate rose from endurance pacing to tempo to steady state. My heart rate quickly reached 180bpm, and stayed there for the next hour and a half! I thought that surely my competitor would slow down and settle into a steady pace during the second lap, but when that didn’t happen, I had no choice but to ease up and conserve energy for the next few hours.
I was passed from 2nd to 3rd by a fast competitor who quickly moved up the field during the second lap, but I stayed in third place for the remainder of the race. Every lap was about 8 miles and 800 feet of climbing, with two steep climbs every lap to break up the groups. My goal was to do 7 laps within the 6 hours, and I was averaging about 45 minutes a lap. My fastest lap was my first at 43 minutes, and my slowest was my third to last at 52 minutes. The lap times included stops, so any time I grabbed a granola bar or filled up my water I had to be quick about it. This was good practice for the future because I have never had to fill up a bottle or refuel during a cross country race. I was worried about having to go to the bathroom during the race, but luckily (maybe because of adrenaline or dehydration) I never had to deal with that.
I stopped three times to get more water or food, and made a point to eat something every lap, whether it was a whole pop tart or some quick Gu. With two hours to go, I was really feeling the exhaustion, and I could tell my body was crashing. I came around the end of the lap and remembered I had a can of Coke in my snack bag. I cracked one open and quickly drank about half, and let me tell you that turned my life around. I didn’t realize how good a shock of caffeine and simple sugar can make a tired body feel, but my final two laps I had a renewed sense of energy. With about an hour and a half left, I planned on doing two more laps, but had to really book it on my second to last one to make sure I had enough time to make it back by the cut off for my last lap. Luckily, I made it back with 50 minutes to spare for the last lap. I didn’t eat anything because I was so tired, and just had tunnel vision about getting back and finishing the race. I had no idea whether 4th place was right behind me or a ways back, so all I could do was go as hard as I could and hope I wouldn’t get caught.
As I rounded the corner with less than half a mile to go, a huge smile broke out on my face. My face was crusted with salt from dried sweat, my legs were dangerously close to cramping, and my body was sore everywhere. Still, I was beyond happy that I had completed the 6 hour race, despite my doubts that I wasn’t ready. When I crossed the finish line, I had never been happier to be in third place. At the start line, I wasn’t sure how the day would go, or if I would even finish. Getting a podium in such a tough event was gratifying, and affirmed that my training over the off season was paying off. It was a privilege to race against such strong women, and it made me even more excited for the next race of the endurance series, now that I know a little bit more of what to expect.