Race Day Adventures: Borah Epic

If you had told me 2 years ago that I would sign up for a mountain bike race that was over 30 miles in length, I would've told you that you were nuts.

That is how I felt when I signed up for Borah Epic in January. "Josie. You're nuts."

I went with the idea that I was able to do the Chequamegon 40 and finish, so I would undoubtedly be able to do the Borah Epic and finish.

Air and mystery surrounded the CAMBA trails, which prior to the event I had only ridden a couple. I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to go and check out 30+ miles of singletrack for a race that I had no idea on how I would do or where I would finish. Unfortunately for me, the months ticked by quickly and it was time to head to Hayward before I felt ready. The lack of saddle time on gravel rides stressed me out, so for mental sanity I went against my "you should rest" rule and allowed myself a short mountain bike ride on both Thursday and Friday. The drive is long and my legs hate being stagnant.

Weather was also playing a game of roulette with us, threatening to make the mountain bike race a 2-loop gravel race. I didn't want to be without mountain biking for that long, and figured if I at least got a ride in at home- it would make up for the lack of dirt given the worst case scenario.

I also had added worry when Curtis and I stopped by Decorah Bicycles before we rolled out of town- it was surprisingly busy and I had a shadow of guilt. Travis had said we'd make this event work out for me, yet there was going to be a lot of additional stress with my being gone. I can't thank Travis and the guys enough for making this race opportunity work for me.

When we arrived in Hayward and had checked into the motel we went straight to registration. We had enough time to register and get in a short pre-ride which totaled about 10 miles. I never really had the opportunity to pre-ride for any event that wasn't the Decorah Time Trials, so I appreciated the opportunity to get a taste of what I would be getting into.

Definitely not Decorah trails! There were some rounded rocks you had to roll over and sometimes that got to be a little old, but what impressed us both was how the trails flowed. I mean flowed. We did an out and back on a few, and on the way out we had in our heads "man, this might suck on the way back..." yet when we rode back it rode just as easily if not better! It was amazing.

For supper we at at the Angry Minnow Brewery- a recommendation that O'Gara had given to me during Chequamegon yet I felt too exhausted after to deal with public outings. Curtis and I drove past Angry Minnow, and in truth- it's easy to do so. The outside of the building looks like it's abandoned, yet when you go inside it's absolutely awesome. The decor is simple and pleasant with a lot of dark wood and both indoor/outdoor seating. The waitress was super helpful with beer choices and food recommendations. I opted for a fresh white fish sandwich, figuring it would be light yet filling...nerves are great for curbing appetites.
The beer was delicious and the food was excellent. I attempted to feel hopeful about getting some rest for the evening. That was a joke.

My nervousness was up to the highest octave and I simply could not let my mind quiet down enough to let me sleep. I had turned the AC on to make the room more comfortable temperature-wise and had thought "Oh, white noise will be good." Boy, I was wrong. I tossed and turned. At one point I saw a bright light flash while my eyes were closed....a storm. Rain. Great....I looked at the weather and there was a big blob over us. I closed my eyes and faced away from the window, hoping beyond hope that there would be SOME type of race tomorrow. Anything. Just don't let it be cancelled due to storms (during the day.)

6 a.m. my alarm went off, I was awake in the first place but unaware of the time. I shut it off and laid back down, thinking "Any rest is better than no rest." I had literally been up all night. I would be mountain biking on no sleep.

The thought of breakfast made my stomach curdle. I drank some lemonade and ate a Honey Stinger Caramel Waffle. I felt like I wanted to barf...but didn't. My stomach still had pre-race issues, as I typically do. I waited as long as I could before taking a swig of Pepto. I choked down a doughnut hole and decided that I was done trying to eat anything more.

We rolled out around 8:30 a.m. so we could get to the start, have time to park, and have time to hit the portapotties before the race. You know. Important stuff.
When it was announced that folks could line up behind the front riders, Curtis ushered me to get my spot. As always, it's said that if you aren't fast, don't put yourself up near the front...but I am...kinda fast. I knew I would give myself further disadvantage if I started towards the rear...what to do, what to do. I guessed my best and rolled up to my spot, feeling completely like a poser with my flat pedals and Five Tens. "Josie, you are not a poser. You are a good rider."

Prior to rolling up to the start, Melissa, a rad women I had interviewed gave me some advice, "Push hard on the pavement and grass so you can get to a good place on the singletrack."
I was nervous because that would lead to my potentially blowing myself up before the race really started going anywhere. I figured where I chose for my spot would allow me the opportunity to stay ahead of folks who I would be passing yet let a solid number of folks pass me who were stronger riders. I had also overheard someone saying that there are likely folks who will be faster on the pavement and grass, yet not be as good of singletrack riders, thus, having to pass folks who passed you. This was going to be interesting. When we reached the first grassy portion I discovered my first mishap. I had just drained my Camelbak bladder. I didn't even think to look at how much water I had left after the pre-ride and assumed that I had enough. This was going to be challenge #1 during a race on a very warm and humid day.

It's intense when you all pile into the singletrack, you fall into a train because it takes folks time to get over/around obstacles or they mess up and you have to wait. This happened for a little while until we all started spreading ourselves out a bit. I had a kind fellow behind me aid in passing a fellow as he apparently knew I could go faster than the person I was behind, yet I had too much doubt on myself at that point. He was a hospitable trail rider who made me feel more comfortable and I wish I had gotten his name so I could give a public "You rock, dude!"

I did my best to be responsive and courteous to those who were behind me, making sure to allow quick passing so long as I felt confident on where I was at.

I ended up behind a woman for awhile who I thought was really awesome. She looked to be older than me and all I could do was be in awe of her pace and skill; hoping I could be like her at whatever age she was at in life. I did pass her due to a trip up on a bridge section (if I remember correctly.) Thankfully there were few bridges to cross and they all came up so quickly I didn't have time to overthink!

The race continued and I kept pushing myself as much as I could. I was prepared with a couple gel pouches taped to my bike. Unlike Time Trials, I wasn't going to lose any due to crashing!

The Gravity Cavity was definitely entertaining, tho I did worry because of our lack of berms in Decorah, that I would fall over in the middle of one and look like a fool. (Thankfully I didn't!) It was so fun and I was really pleased with how well I did!

Another takeaway was how I would surprise myself with being able to maintain space between myself and other riders. I would be plugging along and suddenly there would be a group of 3-4 coming behind me. I'd lose them on the climbs, especially if those climbs had some downhill flow after. There were times when someone would catch up to me and I'd let them pass, but then there was another fellow who was a fine trail companion.

This guy was really awesome, and I feel maybe gave me more credit than deserved. We rode together at least twice during the race. He would announce he was behind me, but not to worry. Just ride my ride, it was all good, and he didn't need to pass. I'm like "Really? Are you sure?" He was completely cool with it. I think at one point I had lost him, then he rolled up behind me again and said the same thing- this time adding that I'm really good at climbs, so it was pointless to pass when I'd just leap fog him. I had a good pace, too, so he wasn't concerned. I felt legitimately honored.

When we exited singletrack and came to another grassy climb on the Birkie, I lost my trail friend because I had dropped my water bottle. He asked if I was okay and I let him know I was, but I had to stop for my bottle since it was the only water I had left! I felt like he was up and over the hill by the time I was able to get going again. I hoped that anyone else behind me would be just as kind.

I took a little time to stop at the aid station that came up next for some energy drink. I wanted to ensure I wouldn't cramp up as I was being bullheaded and not stopping to take my salt tabs. It was warm and muggy; amazing how you would enter certain trail areas and just be riding thru a mist of humidity.

I kept going, but found myself having a hard time mentally after awhile. My shoulder/neck muscle that gives me a lot of grief during long gravel rides was being particularly troublesome. I tried to do some stretches while on the bike, but found little relief. I found my hands aching on the palms on the side where the ulnar nerve runs. My head was hurting from my helmet; I released a little bit of the tension and hoped it wouldn't be flopping around all over my head.

I'm used to riding with minimal water and food, but the humidity and heat were getting to me and I found myself forcing my last Honey Stinger gel down. Being I was on singletrack a lot of the time, I was able to keep my water sipping minimal to conserve fluids for the whole race. I didn't want to stop longer than necessary for anything. I had to keep going, if nothing else, for my mental sanity.

I started ticking down the mile markers, which were helpful and at the same time not. I would think when I saw a number "I've biked that many before." When I saw 17 miles I thought "That's doable" and further down "That's Time Trial length" to "That's just over fitness loop length" to "Holy crap I'm almost done!"

At some point between the 17 and 7 mile marker I crashed. It was a steeper downhill turn with some loose rock and sand. I was allowing myself to roll fast because I had seen some folks coming up behind me. My front wheel went out and I slammed down on my right knee and shoulder. I hustled to get my bike off the trail and moved off to the side so the guys could roll by. It was a relief because I wasn't sure if I could stay ahead of them much longer. I looked down and saw blood on my knee, and a twisted part of me was pleased. If I'm doing the Epic, I might as well look like I had an epic biff instead of my usual "I crashed, but all I got was this bruise and a story." A volunteer had asked me if I was alright when I stopped for some water, and I assured her it looked worse than what it was.

I was asked by only one person if I was truly riding flats. You betcha! I'm here to prove flats rock.

I would bounce back and forth between a balance of renewed energy and plummeting down to bonk. When I was at mile 7 I forced myself to eat two chews, more or less because I knew I'd be biking up a big grass hill to the finish.
A nice fellow passed me and assured me that we were almost finished. Yes!!! I then witnessed the most epic crash I've seen in person, literally within feet of my front wheel. He went over the bars on an uphill and it looked mighty uncomfortable; he was a trooper and rode to the finish!
Yup. I have bowed legs.

I crossed the finish line with a sense of disbelief. I did it. I had actually biked over 30 miles of mostly singletrack. I didn't cramp up, I survived with low water, I rode almost everything, and I only crashed once. I wasn't sure exactly how I would feel when I crossed the finish...at Time Trials I was emotionally and physically drained, but this time I was just drained.

I went to look at the results, not banking on anything spectacular. I knew there had been a good number of fast women out there, my goal was to be in the top 5 or 10 of my age group depending on how many were in said group.

I plugged in my race number.....
I was number one!
I was number one?! Holy crap!
6 total were in my age group for this year. I felt proud to have been another woman out on the course.

I grabbed a brat and a beer and sat down. I didn't feel hungry, but I knew I'd probably feel better if I ate something that was "real" vs. a gel or chew. Gosh darn if that brat wasn't sitting between my legs for a good 10 minutes before I took a bite. The beer was light and refreshing- I did a lot of thinking.

After relaxing for a bit and retrieving my plaque, I chatted a bit with Tad, a wonderful fellow who does great things with Borah Teamwear. Chis, the main man, also came over to congratulate me and we chatted a bit about the course, tire pressure, and simply how grateful I was to have had the opportunity to come up. Borah has been a fantastic company to work with in terms of our shop jerseys- and really, even tho I'm not "sponsored" by Borah, I feel like part of the family, and that says a lot.

After Curtis finished, he went to get the car while I mingled with a few riders- Ella and a super nice woman named Jana. She, her husband, and their friend were great company while I sat under the tent to stay dry from rouge sprinkles. I felt proud of myself that I struck up conversation with folks because my shyness kicks in sometimes. Once Curtis came back we loaded up and made our way back to Decorah- but not without a beer stop at Marketplace Foods.

You might ask, "Josie, what were you thinking about as you were sitting on the ground with your brat and beer?"
Well, for one thing I was very grateful that I was able to make this event work out in my schedule. Leaving the shop in Travis' hands with new help isn't the easiest thing in the world. Anyone involved in a small business or who owns a business can understand. I wanted to experience this event at least one time. I think the end result was fantastic and I couldn't wait for Travis to learn of my personal victory.

The second thing was giving into the fact that my body really, truly didn't feel great. Having to deal with chronic shoulder/neck discomfort with long rides can wear a person out on a mental/emotional level very quickly. I managed to keep myself in check and work thru the race 10 seconds at a time. I decided I really needed to have a heart-to-heart with myself and what I am capable of. I am capable of a lot of great things, however, putting my body thru so much stress is likely not the best thing for me to do on a regular basis. I crave high mileage events, but it pains my body so much- it's a tough pill to swallow.

I will still do Chequamegon 40 this year, but I've come to the conclusion that doing events over 40 miles isn't likely going to happen much. I'm not going to decide on anything for certain other than I will continue to do the local Time Trials and I'll likely still do the PertNear 20 event in Viroqua- but after Chequamegon this year I'll take some time to evaluate myself and what I'd like to experience.

I love the idea of riding miles and miles for hours at a time, but I think it might turn into making sure we take some fun trips out-of-state for "mini-vacations" in the fall months to ride and explore awesome trails in a non-race setting. Less stress on the mind and body...get out of Decorah and ride in other areas and challenge myself with new experiences, terrain, and still make new friends! I can be a women's mountain bike advocate without as much racing if that is what I need to do to ensure I can keep biking (enjoyably) for as long as possible. It's a humbling thought, but I have to be realistic.

Third...I'm so grateful for what I've been able to accomplish in my short time of mountain biking. I am still in awe of what I've found myself capable of. Learning I have grit, determination, and patience. The drive to push myself beyond my limits has rewarded me with some beautiful discoveries and wonderful relationships. This is #bikelife and I am a #fearlesswomanofdirt forever humbled by the sport and the wonderful community of folks within it.
Thanks to-
Travis for making sure Gaston aka BEASTFACE was in good shape. Plus taking care of the kitty kids.
The Decorah Bicycles team for covering for me.
ESI grips & TOGS for keeping my hands as comfortable as they could be for 30+ miles.
Honey Stinger for keeping me fueled.
Borah Teamwear for the raddest kit I own.
All of the volunteers and folks who coordinated the event- you are all awesome.
Curtis for being the transportation and good company.
My friends & family who keep rooting for me even when I think I'm trying to do the impossible.