December 20th concluded my long road/mountain/cx season and I was looking forward to relaxing over the holidays, taking the whole month of January off, and enjoying other activities that didn’t include two wheels. But that was short lived. Right before the New Year my good friend and teammate Rachel Beisel asked if I would do a 24-hour mountain bike race with her as her partner could no longer do it. Without hesitation I said yes, and quickly realized the race was only 6 weeks away and I no longer would be able to take any time off training. I had many miles in my legs and I knew that physically I could do it, but 24-hour races are more mentally challenging than physically. About 2 years ago I did an 18-hour race in a team of four with Rachel and two other teammates. The two of us did a few other races together, so we knew each other’s abilities, expectations, and we knew that we would make a great team. We both are very competitive but we also race because it is fun and a great way to meet like-minded people.
As soon as the holidays were over I said goodbye to wine, cookies, and other little pleasures and started my training. I focused on staying in my top physical shape and kept telling myself I could do it. So you train, get all your gear and nutrition ready (this could be another great blog post), get to the race and now what? What did I get myself into? How am I gonna survive this? I would lie if I said that these thoughts did not cross my mind, but I can honestly admit that quitting was not an option and it never crosses my mind, so I would like to share a few tips on how to survive a 24-hour mountain bike race.
Tip 1: Know your teammates
We had this going for us as we had raced many times together before, but sometimes you don’t have this advantage when putting a team together. If this is the case make an effort to meet your teammates ahead of time. Team rides and training together is ideal, but if this is not a possibility due to geographical limitations or conflicting schedules, try to meet for lunch or coffee so at least you know what your teammates look like. Creating a blog or Facebook group to communicate race planning, training tips, packing list and what not is a good idea too.
Tip 2: Communicate expectations & goals
When it comes to those long races many have different goals. Some are in it to purely have a good time, enjoy the camaraderie, and a beer or two between the laps, while others are in it to win it. Make sure to communicate your goals and reasons why you are doing the race.
Tip 3: Lights
Lights can be a pricey investment so if you don’t have your own many races rent them and they will even recharge the battery for you between laps. Sharing lights with your teammates is not a good idea as it takes time to mount them and you run the risk of running out of battery in the middle of a lap. This has actually happened to me before and it was not an ideal situation. I still don’t own my lights but was able to borrow a set from my boyfriend. I was not familiar with the lights and their battery life so I went to the extent of testing the battery life at each setting before the race to make sure I would not run out of light. Believe it or not, but night riding is more fun and you can actually turn the fastest laps at night time. Nights are cooler, the course is typically less crowded, and because all you can see is the trail ahead of you, you are less distracted and stay focused.
Tip 4: Eat real food
Eat real food and don’t test anything new during a 24-hour race. Gels and energy bars are great during the race, but when between laps make sure to fuel up on real food such as pasta, lean protein, or whatever works best for you.
Tip 5: Have fun
Races, especially ones that are 24 hours long, almost never go as planned and surprises are inevitable. Whether it’s mechanical, crushes, or running out of gas, remember to have fun, support your teammates, and keep your attitude in check. No one will remember how you placed in the race, but what they will remember is your attitude. So remember to have fun and if you do, it will definitely show.
It’s been almost four months since the race and I still have a big smile on my face when thinking about this whole experience. Don’t get me wrong, it was tough and I had moments when I doubted myself, but I just kept going for myself and my teammate. It is amazing to see what your body is capable of doing when you put your mind to it. I am a strong believer that your mind will give in before your body will and this race was a great proof of it. And there is no doubt that pushing my limits, mental and physical, gave me a kick start to the 2016 season.