Getting up at 4AM wasn’t as blindingly painful as it normally is on race day this year for the Ouachita. In fact, I usually push the limit, end up sleeping too late, not eating in time, and ride with a partially digested gut for the start of a lot of endurance races, especially the ones that START at 6 AM (cough, Breck 100). For some reason, my eyes popped right open and before I knew it, I was shoveling fried eggs and bread with almond butter down the hatch.
We stayed in Hot Springs this year, which is an hour from the venue. The hardest part of the AM for me was keeping my eyes open in the car on the way there which involved maneuvers such as playing loud music and sticking my head out the window into the dark, chilly morning. I slowly got dressed and put some finishing touches to the race bike for the day.
I’m trying to figure out why my body fights me in the AM. This particular AM was no exception. I headed out to warm up and my legs felt like blocks of cement and my “openers” were not working. I could barely get my heart rate into zone 3 pushing as hard as I could. My legs would simply load up instantly and I’d have to back it off. I downed a little more caffeine and sugar(that usually helps in situations like this), switched my glasses to clear lenses as it was misting and very cloudy at the start, and hoped for the best. I had very little expectations for good fitness at this race due to my lack of quality consistent training over the past month and a half.
The group of 300 or 400 riders rolled out to the chime of the church bell at 8 AM. My legs instantly felt better which was a relief. Maybe all I needed was a little adrenaline. It was nice to see so many familiar faces this year. Once we hit the dirt road, the pace picked up. I kept an eye on my HR monitor and on the competition for the day. The fast and talented Carey Lowery (who won the 80 miler at this event last year) was nearby and I tried to stick with her. It was fine for awhile, but I watched my heart rate spike above my lactate threshold. Some of the best advice I’ve gotten is that you can’t win an endurance race in the first hour, but you can definitely lose it. I decided to play it safe, back off, and attack the last hill before the singletrack. My plan worked nicely as I entered the singletrack and soon passed more people keeping Carey in my view.
The days preceding the race were tough mentally for me. I hadn’t ridden technical singletrack in many months and felt like I couldn’t get in the zone. I was also still shaken from my crash. However, this day I was 100% there. I felt like Neo in The Matrix after he takes control and was easily clearing things I struggled with during my pre-ride and felt fully focused and strong. Before I knew it, I was sitting 2 people back from Carey and decided to wait it out, slow down a little bit, and see what ensued. I came into the first aide station and didn’t stop. I got bogged down in some traffic on the second piece of singletrack, but quickly re-established my flow and kept chasing. I said to myself, “ride smart, ride your own race. ride within your limits.” The guys I rode with periodically were fun and I was glad to have them there for support. I just wish I had one of them to sit behind on the road sections!
I came into the second aide station and stopped to refill my bottles and heard that Carey was only 2 minutes ahead which actually surprised me because I had lost sight of her. Then it was back on the bike, and from what I remember, a lot of dirt road. It was a really windy, dreary day, and I found myself alone on the road most of the time. If I caught someone, they were either going a little too slow…and if someone caught me, they were going too fast for me to hang on. Solo effort into the wind. “Think back to winter tempo training on the flats. Push. Pull. Push. Pull. Pedal circles. Spin. Power.” Indubitably, I was yelling other things at myself during the race that weren’t as… nice. 🙂
Aide Station 3. I stopped again even though I didn’t really need to and refilled my bottle and grabbed a handful of cookies just in case. I made a mistake last year at a race where I didn’t stop at an aide, and paid dearly for it the rest of that race so I exercise more caution. In this case, I was overly cautious, carrying THREE bottles and only refilling 1-1.5 over and over. It definitely would have been nice to have someone there supporting and handing off bottles so I didn’t have to stop, throw my bike down, and run to the aide table each time, but that’s alright! Solo effort. I heard Carey was 3 minutes ahead. “Hurry up Sonya. Get back on your bike.”
I was applauding myself for being so good about eating and drinking during the race until I got the twinge. “Oh crap. I have to pee. Well, I’ve held it for 10-11 hours in 100 mile races, I don’t see why I can’t hold it today.” and then tried to dismiss the idea of urination. This was probably the worst time to have to pee with such a close margin. I decided I’d try to shut the gap in between aide 3 and 4. We got to ride more of the Womble Trail this year, which was a real treat. I found myself giggling out loud more than once. People probably thought I was psycho…and maybe I am. 😉 Then, my next issue hit me. Click… “SHIFT! Dammit!” Click… click… disbelief, frustration. click… click… no more granny gear. This has also happened before. I’ll be running SRAM XX at my next race, so this won’t be an issue. I had 2 options at this point. Stop and manually move the chain to the granny gear with my hand and hope it stayed there during some of the climbs, or stand up, mash, and waste energy. I ended up choosing a combination of the two, and opted to stop on 2-3 occasions to use the granny. It’s a real bummer having to dismount, lose all momentum, and physically move the chain with your hands. I tried not to let it get me down and I thought of all the super tough singlespeeders and how this is great training for me.
After gut-busting, rollercoaster, gleeful fun on the Womble, I was back on a dirt road. The urge to pee was bad. My front guts were starting to cramp. My friend, Stephen Carney(brother of my friend Andrew), came up on me and I tried to ride with him. Stephen actually bought my old Cannondale when I rode for Sobe Cannondale and was riding my old race bike. What a treat! I said, “Dude… I have to pee so bad, but I don’t want to stop because there is a very small gap between me and 1st place.” I thought, “well… I’m already muddy, sticky, wet, and sweaty, what’s a little pee pee to the mix?” I stood up, stopped pedaling and tried to let it go. Nothing. I tried again… I couldn’t pee on myself, couldn’t relax! It was funny and frustrating all at the same time. Stupid potty training! The gut cramping got so bad that it was effecting my power output on the bike and I decided it couldn’t be healthy. I was glancing at the road sides as I rode by. I kept saying, “Come on Sonya, STOP. PULL OVER! PULL OVER!!!!!!!!!” I didn’t want to lose momentum and couldn’t make myself stop. I didn’t want to lose time. I still hadn’t made up my mind what I was going to do when I got to the 4th aide station. A woman told me that Carey was now 4 minutes ahead. “Screw it.” I dumped my bike and ran off into the bushes. Little did I know that I was running into a briar patch(I found that I had a some blood on my clothes later and was wondering where the scratches on my arm came from). Our team kits have bib shorts… so think about it. Helmet – Off. Full Pockets – partially get emptied. Jersey- off. Bib shorts – yank down, unlock chamois vapor lock. Squat, and release, water the bushes. “If I could just pee faster!” There were 40+ people around. Under normal circumstances, I’d have stage fright, but when ya gotta go, ya gotta go. Plus, I don’t think watching a dirty, frantic, sweaty girl go pee is that hot anyway… depending on what you’re in to. 😉 I think I might have peed like 16 ounces of water, so I was glad I didn’t let it go all over myself and my bike. I made haste, got dressed and ran over to the aide table. I decided to fill my one empty bottle (I was carrying THREE bottles and kept stopping to fill ONE, what’s wrong with me?!) I ate a couple of cookies and hit the road. 15 miles to go.
Heart rate/altitude file at the end of the day. This is the first endurance race where I could actually see my heart rate start to finish on a graph. Engineer nerd part of Sonya says, “ooo, that’s exciting and nice!”
My legs were so tired from pushing my middle ring, and I had lost my motivation because I knew that now I had to be at least 8 minutes back after my peeing fiasco. I should have pushed myself harder on the last singletrack section, but instead I tried to ride it a little more leisurely. It finally emptied on the road, and I hauled ass to the finish, coming in 2nd.
Huge congrats to Carey! It was so much fun racing with you!!!
My team did great! Jeff got 6th(with a flat tire!), Namrita took 5th, and Eddie took 8th. Good day for Topeak Ergon.
I cannot thank the Ouachita Cycling Club, race promoters, and volunteers at this event enough. This wouldn’t happen without you. I saw all of you there in the early AM and thought, “man, they have been here longer than me and they are volunteering.” Thank you, thank you! Also, if you can’t tell in my post, I LOVE THIS RACE and hope to be back next year. The course rocks!!!! (pun intended…)
Also, thanks so much to ALL of my wonderful sponsors. You also make it happen! I just have to pedal. 🙂
We are driving back (sitting in Goodland, Kansas right now). Time to recover, have some fun, and get in some more training for the next set of events. WOOHOO!