What are the chances that both of my June bike races would feature glorious weather, double-digit durations, and culminate in me crashing in the dark, alone, with miles left to ride? Whatever the odds, that’s how the Indian Camp Creek 12-hour went down.
I didn’t have to do the 12-hour; there were 3- and 6-hour divisions as well, but I had a couple of reasons for my stupidity decision. First, there were far more racers registered for the shorter events, and I didn’t relish the thought of spending my entire race dodging the faster racers (pretty much everybody) as they passed me. Also, after my DK200 nutritional fail, I really needed some extended time on the bike to practice eating during a long race, and without a financial commitment you aren’t going to get my ass on a bike for 12 hours. But perhaps most of all, after 18 hours of Dirty Kanza, riding for 3 or 6 hours just didn’t seem…epic enough.
What I forgot was all that “epic” implies: struggle, challenge, the need to endure, reaching deep inside yourself to those last reserves…suffering. Epic doesn’t necessarily equal fun, except in retrospect. So, basically, ICC was a combination of hubris, torture chamber, and expensive training ride.
For nearly a week, I was the only person signed up in the female solo 12-hour division, but then two other women registered. Knowing both by reputation, I was sure they’d beat me, but if no one else entered in our division I’d have a good chance at 3rd place. 🙂 Robin and Chuck were doing the 12-hour team race, so I was able to drive over with Robin. That saved both of us from having to drive home alone after racing all day.
|Lori in our HQ for the day; she was awesome support all day long. Towards the top of the picture you can see the tape marking off the course as it passes behind race village and back out to the trails.|
Chuck and Lori already had our HQ set up at race village, so we just had to lug over all of our stuff and park the van in an open lot. They ended up near Angie, who I’d just met at last weekend’s mountain bike clinic, so it was nice to get to visit with her a little before the race. GORC was right next to Angie’s spot, Pfoodman’s tent with Lisa and Steph was on the other side of us, and Team Seagal with the Davis clan’s cheerpower later in the day was to another side. Basically, we were surrounded by familiar faces. With a half hour before the pre-race meeting, we had plenty of time for getting things together, bathroom stops, etc.
|One of the best things about being a girl in a male-dominated sport: we have the shorter bathroom lines!
Photo credit: Darla Chilton
We were towards the back at the meeting, and between being distracted by looking around to see who I knew and running back to get my raffle ticket, I didn’t hear everything. I remember hearing that, unlike in the shorter races, the 12-hour people didn’t have to complete their final lap within 1/2 hour of the race finish (so, for example, since the 3-hour race ended at 10, racers would have to finish their last lap by 10:30 or it wouldn’t count), but I must have missed part of the instructions (ominous foreshadowing).
Photo credit: Darla Chilton
Meeting over, it was time to head down to the race start, a mile or so (?) away from race HQ. Despite all the time we had earlier, I still had to scramble to get things together and was one of the last ones to the start line, but that wasn’t a big deal since I intended to place myself as far back as possible. I exchanged good lucks with Mark, who I met last year at the Tall Oak Challenge, and meet his son, and then it was go time.
|Very happy to be at the back of the pack.
Photo credit: Karena Romsted
|The view ahead of me.|
Though I definitely had some pre-race anxiety and spent the drive in wondering what the heck I was thinking signing up for a race like this, it wasn’t my typical level of freak-out. Maybe I’m getting braver, or maybe it was because my goals were pretty modest:
1. Have fun
2. Gain trail experience
3. Avoid outside medical attention
4. Practice eating during a race
We rode the paved park road to a gravel hill to the parking lot by race HQ. Because my bike’s shifting had been a little jumpy at the mountain bike clinic, I took it out for a ride earlier in the week to see if I needed to get it into the bike shop for adjustments. It had seemed fine during the shakedown cruise, but as soon as I started shifting on the hill my gears were slipping all over. This is going to be a looooonnng 12 hours. Then, I managed to take a wrong turn onto the course. (This is why I’m not the navigator.) 5 minutes into the race and I was out of breath, near last place, and off course. Awesome.
|At the top of the hill and about to turn onto the course|
What can you say about a race that is multiple loops around the same course? Indian Camp Creek Park’s trails are rated beginner to intermediate. Other than that little stretch of park road/gravel that we only had at the start of the race, laps started/ended at race village, and the course was about an 8-mile loop. Here’s a little video preview of what we rode:
Miles 1-2: The course curved through race village and into a field. A dirt path was worn in the grass from previous tires, and you had to watch out for ruts in a few places. I learned my lesson about those last year, but I did get to see a pretty spectacular crash as cruel experience taught a guy ahead of me to beware the rut.
The field trail led into the woods and a twisty section with a lot of embedded rocks. Because it’s been so dry here, the trails were really dusty, and as the day went on dust collected on the sides of the trails like sand in some spots. You had to be careful there or it would kind of funnel you where you didn’t necessarily want to go. This first wooded section kept me nervous every time I passed through it, worrying about going down onto the rocks.
Next was a fairly flat, twisty section of the smoothest dirt trail that passed through the woods near the river. This part got more and more fun over the first four loops as I got more comfortable with carrying some speed through. The 2-mile mark came partway through this section.
Miles 2-4: More of the flats into a field, across the road, and more field trail along the park road. Very fun volunteers at the road crossing. Part of this latter section is where I crashed last year, so I was very careful to hold my line or just avoid the ruts altogether here.
Miles 4-6: Field trail back into the woods and up the one real hill of the race. Nothing really tricky there, just some rocks and roots, but it seemed to go on forever. The trail passed out of the woods and into a long section of exposed field trail, which was progressively less fun as the heat rose. This 2 miles was probably my least favorite section of the race.
|Part of the trail through the field|
Miles 6-8: Crossing a road from the field, the trail heads back into the woods. There were a couple dips that made me nervous every time I rode through them, and a series of tight switchbacks through a field, but the highlight of this segment was a fun, swoopy section through the cedars.
Towards the end, the trail crosses the gravel we rode up at the race start, climbs a small hill, and then makes a sharp right into another small incline. The hill wasn’t so bad, but I could never make the turn, so I had to walk at least part of this every single lap. Even so, the hill was a welcome sight because it meant that race village was just a short distance away through the field at the top. Riding through the finish chute was always a great feeling because my friend Suzanne was helping with scoring and yelled and cheered for me every time I came around.
Guesses for my giveaway contest were all over the board from 1 to 200, but I had two goals. My “I’ll be disappointed if I can’t do this” goal was to ride more laps than the 6 hour ladies. My “stretch” goal was 10 laps. I haven’t seen official results, but I’m pretty sure I met the first goal; not so for the second, but it was close.
Lap 1: Both times I’ve ridden at Indian Camp Creek were in the opposite direction of the race, so the trails felt pretty new to me and my first lap was a “getting to know you” ride. Since I was going to be on the bike for 12 hours, I didn’t worry about trying to go fast; instead, I tried to keep a pace I could maintain. That said, I don’t think my “race pace” would have been any quicker than my “endurance pace” because I’m even more limited by fear than lack of ability.
I saw four or five guys with flats on my first lap and asked if they needed anything. No one did except a younger boy who needed a co2 cartridge; I read later that he’d messed up the two he had but this one got him going again, so I was happy it helped him. Checking on the last person I passed with a flat, I guess I was distracted and not paying as close of attention as I needed to, because somehow I ended up falling.
Total miles: 8
Lap 2: I didn’t stop by the tent because I still had plenty of water and felt strong. Once I got through race village and to a shady spot in the field, I did stop for a quick Honey Stinger waffle. No problems on this lap, still feeling good and getting a little more comfortable with the trails. I was drinking regularly from my camelback, and as the temperature rose (though I don’t think it ever got higher than the low 90’s), I drank Gatorade every time I came through a field. The faster riders started lapping me midway through this lap.
As always during a mountain bike race, my biggest concern was staying out of the way of faster riders, which wasn’t a problem in this race. The field was spread out enough that I wasn’t constantly pulling over to the side. Almost everyone was really friendly, and most people who passed were very encouraging. The only thing that would have been better (other than being a faster rider myself) is if everyone would have let me know they were behind me.
|Photo credit: Darla Chilton|
A few riders didn’t say anything when passing, or would say something as they were in the process of passing. That was almost bad when a guy came up on my right and as he was next to my bike said something about passing on my right. I always expect to be passed on the left, so as he spoke up I edged right until I realized what he’d said. Until I’m fast enough to legitimately hold a lead, I’m more than happy to yield to other riders, but it’s a lot more comfortable when I know where they’re coming from or what side they’re passing on…before they’re there.
Total miles: 16
Lap 3: I stopped briefly at the tent after lap 2 for food and ibuprofen. My knee is still a little sore from the Dirty Kanza fall, so I was trying to be proactive and keep any pain at bay during the race. Lori refilled my camelback (which she said wasn’t nearly empty enough) for me while I ate another Honey Stinger and then loaded up with a little more food and took off.
The flats were starting to feel really fun. I was staying off the brakes on dips and curves (a huge accomplishment for me) and riding faster than usual. Coming through the field section in the 2-4 mile segment, I saw our van and Jeff and J sitting in front of it. I’d suggested they come, but I wasn’t sure they would. I was really happy to see them and stopped for kisses and to say hi. They planned to go play in the creek and see me for one more lap before leaving; that gave me something to look forward to.
The end of this lap coincided with the arrival of the time limit for the 3-hour race; that meant that far fewer people were going to be on the trails and I’d have even less passing to worry about.
Total miles: 24
Lap 4: The first part of this lap was great, and seeing Jeff and J again was wonderful. I talked to them a little more while eating another Honey Stinger (hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?) and then rode off. There was nothing remarkable about this lap until sometime in the second half when I got overconfident, clipped a tree, and went down hard on my elbow. The dirt on the trail was as smooth as pavement, and it felt about that hard. Wow, it hurt. I took a minute to catch my breath and then got back on the bike. By the time I got back to race village my elbow didn’t hurt, but it had a pretty sweet goose egg.
I took a longer break here, sat down, and ate some salami and crackers. Jim and Wendy were there spectating, so Jim brought me a beer to go with “lunch”. I was feeling pretty good about my eating, but I was wearing down. I took a picture of my elbow and posted it on facebook, then took off for my next lap. What I didn’t realize was that people might see the elbow picture and think I was injured rather than just bruised, so sorry if you were worried. If I’d dropped out you can be sure I’d have been facebooking up a storm.
Total miles: 32
Lap 5: This was where I started not particularly wanting to go out again. It was around 2:30 and I still had 7.5 hours to go. Time for the head games to start. In some ways, this race was similar to Dirty Kanza. The longer distance, the mental stamina required to keep riding as your body (my lower back, in particular) gets more and more uncomfortable, and the amount of time I spent by myself. While there were a lot of other riders on the course, I spent basically the entire race alone execept when I was being passed.
Luckily, there were a lot of familiar faces zipping past me. Big thanks to Karen, who was my biggest cheerleader on the trail, always having something encouraging to say on her way to riding 13 laps (over 100 miles!) on her singlespeed. Steph, Lisa, Chris, Dan, Jim, Chuck, and Robin always had something nice to say, too. And then there were the people who knew my name, but I didn’t know who they were. That happened a few times, so if I seemed clueless I apologize. Most of the people who passed me were gone so fast that I couldn’t get a look at them.
|Photo credit: Karena Romstad|
I’m pretty sure that this lap coincided with the walking of the hill in the 4-6 mile stretch. This had the double benefit of me not being completely wasted when I reached the top and giving my back a break. Every time I got back on the bike after walking the hill I felt better.
By the time I finished this lap, the 6-hour race was almost over, and I’d ridden 40 miles. I stopped for anther break at the tent. I ate some toasted ravioli, which passed the race food test with flying colors. It was a great change from the sweet waffles and candy-like energy foods.
Lap 6: I set off with much mental foot-dragging. That swoopy section through the flats was only fun for the first half; then my back was aching again. I started looking forward to the hill between miles 4-6 so that I could get off the bike and walk. As my back got stiffer it was harder and harder to actually get off the bike, though, and I started to worry I’d fall over on the dismount…which I guess would make for a good story.
On a couple of these later laps, Karen rode by, always asking how I was doing and encouraging me to stay steady. “Anything could happen…” Knowing that the rules required any 12-hour racers completing a lap before 10:00 to do another one or be considered a DNF, I was starting to daydream about grabbing my phone and facebooking in the woods until the deadline was passed. I didn’t want to let Karen down, but I was feeling less and less steady as the day went on.
I took another long break after this lap. Taking my bike shoes off felt sooo good. I was completely filthy from all the trail dust.
|Layers and layers of dust and sweat|
As much as I’d like to think that my poor nutrition played into my Kanza DNF, I think Indian Camp Creek established that eating wasn’t the main issue: it’s fitness. I did a far better job with my eating for the 12-hour, but I still struggled as time went by. It comes down to training or, more specifically, not training. Until that changes, my performance isn’t going to, so I’m going to need to buck up and put in the work or stop being disappointed with what I’m able to do.
|Thank you, Pensive Pumpkin!|
Total miles: 48
Lap 7: Ugh. My hands were so weak from all the time on the bike that it was hard to shift and almost impossible to open food packages. I had to practically chew them open. In the future for long races, I need to remember to pre-open some of those wrappers. My back hurt a lot, so I stopped every 2ish miles to stretch it, which made this leg more manageable. Walking up that last hill before race village, I saw Steph ride by looking strong.
Finished the lap. Another longish break. My friend Sarah stopped by to say hi, and despite spending most of a day with her a few months ago, I didn’t even realize who I was talking to at first. I was just wiped out. Luckily, I didn’t have to do much. Every time I stopped, Lori took such good care of me, asking what I needed, filling bottles, and most of all encouraging me. Seems like Robin and I were almost always at the tent at the same time, and she commiserated with me about how tired we were and cleaned up my poor chain a little.
I wasn’t the only one who was thinking that 12 hours on a bike was several hours too many. I heard that some people were lobbying the race directors to make the 12-hour an 8-hour, and Robin was doing the math to decide if she was going to have to go out again. She checked with one of the race volunteers to confirm whether racers had to go back for another lap if they arrived before 10:00 and was told no. I was positive that I’d heard different, but no less delighted to find out that I could quit whenever I wanted without risk of DNF.
Total miles: 56
Lap 8: Race rules stated that anyone who was on the trails after 8 had to have a light with them. Because it was sometime after 7 when I set off, I took my headlamp. I had brought my bike light, but for this lap, I was hoping to be back before I really needed it. The fading sunlight made for dim lighting in the woods, but it was still plenty bright in the fields and dusk brought welcome relief from the day’s heat.
I continued with regular stretch breaks, and that combined with the cooler temperatures to make for a less unpleasant lap. In fact, I felt so much better that I was toying with the possiblity of going out for one more lap. I was torn. I was really sore, and I wasn’t at all looking forward to hitting the singletrack (perhaps literally) in the dark. On the other hand, the thought of over 70 miles was pretty cool, and I didn’t want to let down my readers by stopping….and then my mood swung back in the other direction and I decided that anyone who didn’t think I’d done enough was welcome to register next year for themselves.
I was still undecided when I reached the start/finish at 8:52. Total miles: 64
Robin and Lori were busy taking the tent down when I arrived back at race village, which was now a ghost town with the 3- and 6-hour people gone. And then they dropped the bomb that I had to go out again. As soons as I heard I had to, I knew I was finished. I did not want to ride anymore. Since this was opposite what Robin had been told earlier, I went to the scoring desk to confirm what the rule was, and the USA cycling official told me that yes, unless I wanted a DNF, I had to go out on another lap if I came in after 9. Nine o’clock…if I’d been a mere 8 minutes later coming in, the decision would have been mine to make.
“If you didn’t want to go out again you could have just waited before the finish line until the time ran out,” he commented.
“Don’t tell me any more,” I warned him, “or I’ll start crying.”
Lap 9: I still had a decision to make, of course, but it was no longer ride more or don’t; the choice was ride or DNF. There was really no question. Moreover, I heard that one of the top two girls had already quit, which meant if I finished I could be 2nd out of 3 instead of last place. I got out my bike light, fumbled with it until Robin put it on for me, and rode away like a prisoner approaching the gallows. It was a little after 9 when I left, and I fully expected this lap to take at least an hour and a half.
|A little more light than last time, but I’d have been happier with a floodlight. 🙂|
A smarter person would learn how to use her equipment, because I know that light was a lot brighter or better directed or something at LBL. Feeling very unsure in the dim glow of my headlamp and bike light, I crept down the trail. The rockier section made me nervous, and I was greatly looking forward to reaching the smooth surface of the flats. Ironically, however, that’s where I fell again, landing on my already swollen right elbow and twisting the same knee I’d hurt in Kansas.
Well. This was familiar territory indeed. Alone, in the dark, hurt, and 6 miles to go before the finish line. I was close to tears, but I this time I pushed them back and climbed onto my bike, whimpering with each pedal stroke. The thought of cutting the course short and riding or walking back to the finish line crossed my mind, but I just couldn’t stomach another DNF. No way was I quitting again.
Riding down the trail I saw what looked like two bike lights pointing in my direction. I couldn’t figure out who would be going the wrong was on the course, but as I came closer I saw two familiar jerseys. I registered the Cyclery logo before I realized it was Chuck and Robin. They were finished but had come to ride part of the way back with me. What great friends! Having company for really the first time of the day gave me a lift and some distraction, not to mention additional light. They left me after mile 4 at the entrance back into the woods, where I promptly walked the hill.
I walked a LOT of this section. Between riding in the dark and falling on my elbow a second time, my confidence was pretty well shot, and fatigue had rendered my handling iffy at best. I walked hills, I walked roots, I walked dips…it was a pretty weak performance, for sure, but finally I crossed the gravel road to the last stretch of the course. It was well past 10:30; my lap had stretched longer than even my own negative expectations. Jim was walking down the hill and saw my lights: “Is that you, Kate? They’re looking for you!” Finally I made my way back to the remanents of race village and across where the finish line had been.
Total miles: 72
As my friends came over and hugged me, I struggled to hold back tears. I was completely spent. A lot of people rode further and faster than I did, but my race pretty much took everything I had. Someone put my bike away, someone handed me a beer, and Lori brought me my clothes so I could finally clean off the sweat and trail dirt.
The awards ceremony started while I was changing, and as I rinsed my legs under the spigot I heard the race directors ask something about if anyone wanted to protest results. No one spoke up, and they moved on to awards. In the women’s 12-hour solo, they started with third place and announced my name. Confused, I slowly walked up to the front.
To review, here are the rules as explained to me by the USA cycling official before my last lap: if you arrive back before 9:00 (or 11 hours into the race), you must ride another lap or you’re considered a DNF. The only reason I rode that last lap is because I was told I’d be a DNF if I didn’t. So this is the understanding I’m working with as I walk up to the front. Of course, the time to discuss this was when they asked about protests. In retrospect, I feel bad about bringing it up the way I did rather than earlier, but I’d been cleaning up in the bathroom and had never seen results.
“Ummm, shouldn’t it be second? Because didn’t Mia DNF?”
They explained very nicely to me that for the 12 hour race there was no rule about having to go out again, and thus since her 10 laps was more than my 9 laps, she was the second place finisher. And guys, I don’t care at all about second vs. third. I mean, both those girls rode circles around me and are far better cyclists than I am. I am the third place one of us. What brought me to tears as I stood up there was trying to process the fact that they made me ride a lap that I didn’t want or have to ride. They apologized for the misunderstanding and assured that they’d make it up to me, and I carried my plaque back to my seat. Surrounded by fantastic cyclists, people who I look up to and am thrilled to be in the same event with, I fought exhausted, bewildered tears and tried not to look like a sore loser.
The rest of the awards continued, with Karen taking first overall for women, Steph and Lisa winning first in the women’s 12-hour team, Chuck and Robin winning third in 12-hour co-ed, and Jim B and his partner winning second for men’s 12-hour team. After awards, it was time to the swag raffle, and the directors called me up first to pick out anything I wanted before the raffle started. There was so much stuff there, and I think I must have just stood there with a blank look; I had no idea what to take.
“Does you bike shift well?” one of them asked. Since that’s a definite no, he gave me some bike cables that are supposedly really good (because you know I have no clue) and then threw in a box of Honey Stingers as well (it’s almost like he knew I spent the whole day fighting crappy shifting and eating waffles). They left my name in for the raffle as well, so I ended up with two $25 gift certificates to Ballwin Cycles, which is fantastic. And then Chuck gave me the Road I.D. certificate he’d gotten since I don’t have one. It was a little like Christmas.
It was a great race, and I really appreciate all the work the promoters, sponsors, parks department, GORC, and the volunteers put into the trails and event. I accomplished my goals for the race, and I even learned a couple extra lessons: pay attention at the pre-race meeting, and if you have questions, check with the race director. If you’d asked me the day of the race or the day after if I’d do another 12-hour event, I’d have given you a definite no. Today, I’m not so sure. I could maybe see doing it again. But 72 miles of singletrack, even the relatively gentle trails of Indian Camp Creek Park, is no joke. I’m more sore now than I was after 160 miles of Kansas gravel. It’s pretty cool, though, to do something that most people think is crazy. Well, once you’re finished, anyway.
As far as my giveaway, Chuck was the only one to hit the lap number (9) exactly, so I owe him a book.