Racing to train versus training to race – part 2

June 25,2013


Photo by Sara Harper – Thanks so much for being there on the trail hollering and making me smile!

Mohican 100K Race

Loudenville, OH

June 1, 2013

The third weekend of pushing limits came with the Mohican 100 – a 100K (though some do the 100 mile) mountain bike race. Now mountain biking is a completely different animal than road racing. You race on your fat tire bike through trails in the woods, over logs and roots and rocks. The climbs tend to be punchy and make you a bit more anaerobic, and the obstacles make you have to concentrate in a different way. BUT that is what make it fun. You solve puzzles continuously while riding your bike. Like a golfer lining up a long putt, or a skier choosing the best line down a mountain, you pick your best route and go with it. Choose wrong and you might not stay upright. Choose right, and you may sail through something that looked treacherous.

So we arrived in Ohio, and as we went to pre-ride the course, it started to rain, and rain and rain and rain. Now I was getting fairly comfortable on by mountain bike in the dirt and even a little mud, but my mind started to worry about wet roots and slippery rocks and peanut butter mud after a thorough night’s soaking. Frankly I was super nervous. But what good would worrying do? We rode a short bit of the course, and my teammate Stacie and friends Michelle and Darren helped talk me through what to expect. It actually relaxed me to ride a bit. I soon became more anxious about how I was going to find morning coffee. 😉

The next day came and we headed to the starting line. It had rained all night, it seemed, waking us up in our motel room at times. Crazy. So it would be tough, but I gave up being nervous. It was time to ride and complete this beast.

At the start in the town, the mountain bikers took off up a series of rolling climbs, and a wave of colors glided up the hill. People cheered as the wave passed, a few turns and then finally into the woods onto single track (a trail wide enough just for one bike, versus double track where 2 people could ride side-by-side). This winded around through the woods for about 20 technically challenging miles, and it was about 2 miles in when I probably remembered not to hold my breath, and started to relax my arms and go with it. The course was beautiful, like riding through an enchanted forest, and the footing was not as bad as I’d expected. At one point I took a spill into a hillside (which is better than down a hillside), but after a bit got up and got back on the bike.

After the 3rd aid station, I caught up with a friend, Michelle “MJ,” and we decided to ride this bad boy together. Pittsburghers gotta stick together, you know. We pulled each other up climbs and through tricky trails, and got to the finish line. A bit sore, but happy to have finished 7 hours and 22 minutes after starting that morning.

That was the longest time I’d spent on the mountain bike, and I was starting to really like it.

Racing to train…

Yeah, so it is often hard to choose when to go from “riding” to “racing.” You’re never quite ready, perhaps, but you want to take the plunge. So in this process of training for 2014, as races come on the calendar, I’ve discovered that I’m racing to train this year. Rather than training for individual races, like I did in the past. The focus is just on having fun, spending time on the bike, pushing myself, and trying to find that envelope – that point where a little further would be too far – without going over it. Like training for a sporting event of any sort, you have to build gradually. If the goal is a 5K walk, the first time out it may just be around the block. If the goal is to walk 20 minutes on the treadmill each day or 3 days per week without getting completely wiped out, the first day might only allow for 5 minutes or 3 minutes. But the next week you might go longer, farther, and pretty soon maybe you surprise yourself. Things that were not possible become possible, and for each person at his or her own pace.

So each event, each race has a build. Can I go farther? A little faster? Can I stay with the “rubber side down” in the mountain bike races (meaning not get tossed from an obstacle)? Can my body tolerate being on the bike longer without being decimated the next day, or injured, or burned out mentally? With bigger goals ahead, each race becomes a stepping stone, and a fun way to push oneself differently – a bit more – than you can or would in a workout. So I guess it isn’t about that particular race itself, just getting fit and enjoying the ride.

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