Race the Lake is a 90-mile bike race around Lake Winnebago that starts in Fond du Lac, WI. When you sign up for the race you have to choose in which wave you will start. (The waves are based on your anticipated average mph over the 90-miles). I wanted to sign up for the slowest wave, thinking that I would not be able to hold anything faster than maybe 15 mph over that long of a distance. My average during my half-Ironman was 16.2 mph but that was only 56-miles so I wasn’t sure what would happen to my legs by the end of 90-miles.
Race the Lake is also a draft legal race. This means that bikers are able to ride as a group and draft off of one another. (Think Tour de France peloton style on a smaller scale). I was pretty convinced that I was going to stay away from these packs and do my best to prevent people from getting that close behind me and drafting off of me. I don’t always have the most consistent pace and was afraid of getting run into. (It happened during my half-Ironman and that’s not even a draft legal race). I joked before the race that I was going to make a shirt that said stay back 100 ft. and NO DRAFTING allowed! I even thought of announcing to my wave that they should not plan on drafting off of me for any reason! Needless to say I thought for sure I should be in the last wave, which was reserved for the less experienced cyclists. In the end I was convinced to at least sign up for the 16mph wave. Wave 12, the last wave, was for riders in the 12-15mph range. The other waves were reserved for only one additional mph speed increase; wave 11 (the wave for which I signed up) was for 16mph, wave 10 was for 17mph, etc. The waves started 2-3 minutes apart so my wave started almost 45 minutes after the first wave went out.
The race started at 5:45am!! And Fond du Lac is about 90 min from my house. I set my alarm for 2:40 that morning and couldn’t decide if I was crazy or dedicated, but it was probably a bit of both. I rode up to the race with a friend who has done the race the previous three years and was starting in a much faster wave. After I got my bike ready to go, got checked in and body marked I looked down at my Garmin and realized it still said 3:07AM. Crap… The time wasn’t working and it wouldn’t turn on so that I could use it to track distance, speed, or cadence either. The longest bike ride I have ever done and I wasn’t going to be able to record it. It also meant that I wouldn’t know how long I was out there and when I should take in my nutrition. Luckily I don’t tend to get all that nervous on race day. I think I must worry myself out by the time the actual race comes around! The friend I was with suggested taking in my Gu about every 10 miles or so and that seemed to work pretty well. (When I can keep track of time I try to take a Gu every 45 min and then do water and my liquid nutrition in between).
Within the first two miles of the race I had to stop once because someone’s race number fell off their helmet and got stuck to my tire. A few minutes after that a tiny bug flew right into my eye! Remember… the race started at 5:45 so it was still a little too dark out for sunglasses. I should maybe think about investing in some transition sunglasses so I can still wear them when it’s dark out; I almost lost my contact lens trying to get the bug out of my eye… Once I was finally able to settle in and prepare myself for the long day of biking I felt pretty good. At one point I even thought about moving to the Fond du Lac area so I could get in some flat rides 🙂 I am still a slow hill climber so I really love the flat courses. There don’t seem to be too many places in Madison to find a truly flat ride.
About 5 miles into the ride a large group of riders all zipped passed me. Even though they were going much faster than I was I had no desire to join their little group. I was perfectly happy doing my own ride and staying away from any potential disasters. A few miles later, though, I caught up to the back of another group of riders. Hmmm – just riding at the back of the group wasn’t too bad. I noticed I was putting out a little less effort and going a little bit faster. I decided to hang out with this group for a while and see how it went. I made sure to stay in the back so that no one would be riding too close behind me. Before long I just became one of the group though. Since I had two computers on my bike that weren’t working I had no idea how fast we were going, but I had a sense that it was faster than my predicted 16mph pace. I also knew that I felt comfortable at this pace and with the group. We were moving along pretty quickly, I was having fun and no one was crashing! The miles seemed to be flying by and I wasn’t bored at all. (Solo rides can get pretty boring).
There were rest stops along the way and the group I was riding with stopped at one of these stops (probably around mile 20-25). I didn’t plan on stopping (after all this was RACE the Lake). I knew I had a pretty good pace going and I wanted to see how fast I could get this ride finished. There was another group leaving the rest area as we were passing by and I joined up with them and was excited to be able to keep up. I really wish I had my computer working at this point because I’m pretty certain we were somewhere in the 20mph range. On a flat course and riding with the group I was only slightly concerned about keeping up this pace for the entire 90 miles. I wanted to use the group and push as hard as I could for as long as I could. I also kept telling myself that I didn’t have to run after so there was no reason to save my legs. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t walk at the end.
The hills started once we hit High Cliff State Park. I had ridden this first big hill for my half-Ironman and I knew it was coming. It’s not the biggest hill I’ve ever ridden up but you still feel it when you start going up it. The group that I was with had decided to stop at the rest area at the bottom of the hill (which was about the half-way point). I was slow going up the hill but luckily there wasn’t a group I was trying to stay with either so I just took my time. Once I got through the first few hills that were out on this half of the course I saw another group about 3-4 miles ahead. By this time I was sold on the benefits of riding in a group and wanted to catch up to this group. I pushed as hard as I could for the next few miles knowing that I could back off slightly once I caught up with them. Again – really wish my Garmin had been working. I know I was moving at a pretty good pace. I caught up with them and stayed with that group until about mile 60. There was a rest stop here and I decided I needed to stop to use the port-a-potty. I tried to hold off as long as I could and I really just wanted to race through to the end, but I had stopped taking in any liquids a few miles back because my bladder was already full and saying no to incoming fluids. I decided it would be much smarter to stop for a few minutes. After all, I still had 30 miles of riding to do and I was going to need to keep drinking. The group I was with was stopping anyway.
I seemed to do most of the last 30 miles more on my own than with groups. There were a few groups I was able to catch up to but there were more hills on the back half and I would always slow down up the hill and then catch back up to the group on the flat or downhill. I’m sure the hills slowed my average pace a bit, but DAMN GARMIN I’ll never know what my pace the first half was compared to the second half. I ended up finished in 4:57:09, which is an average of 18.2 mph!!! I was super excited. This was my longest ride to date, my fastest average pace, I overcame my fear of riding in a group and my toes didn’t go numb at all (which happens on every ride)! Three years ago I didn’t even own a bike and now I’m biking 90-miles and loving it. I can’t believe I was on the bike for almost five hours and not once did I think “Is this ride over yet”. I had so much fun on that ride and next year I hope to be faster on the hills and have an even faster average speed.
This ride was a huge confidence booster for me. Yes, it was mostly flat. Yes, riding with a group does make you faster. But I biked 9o fast miles and loved every minute of it. Even when my legs were getting tired going up the hills not once did I want to give up. I kept telling myself to push a little faster and it will eventually be over. I told myself I could make it up one more hill or push just a little faster on the flat. It was pointed out to me that it may have been a good thing I didn’t have my Garmin because if I had seen my pace I may have slowed a little thinking that I was pushing it too hard. Instead, I just let my brain and body work together and they both had an awesome race! What I didn’t know at the time was the friend who went up with me and was racing in the 23mph wave (but finished with the 25mph group) had finished the race the first year he did it in 4:56. I was only 1 minute slower!! And had I known that I may have tried pushing it just a little harder up one of those hills 🙂 Of course he will also point out that it was raining and he wasn’t riding with a group but I don’t care… I never expected to even be close to any of his finish times no matter how I got there. Three years ago I didn’t even own a bike. Now I’m biking 90-mile races and having a lot of fun doing it. With some work over the next year I hope to finish even faster next year.
I really wish every bike ride could feel like that ride. Everything seemed to fall into place for me. I have already been back out on the bike and did NOT have a ride like I did on race day, but I know that I had just raced and pushed my body so I’m not going to get frustrated. I don’t think I can adequately express the happiness and excitement I feel about this race so I’m going to try and remember the feelings of elation and use them to push me to train harder and not get down on myself when I have a bad ride. Some days are just better than others and I’m thankful that my two big races were really good days for me.