That time I did a bike race and survived to blog about it

Okay, maybe it’s a little past the mid-way point – it’s August after all, and the stores are filling up with shelves of school supplies and I just saw a sign for Halloween stuff. For real. But in my world, it feels like the heart of summer and more like June than a month before Autumn. This might be partially due to the fact that it’s finally warm in the U.P.

Speaking of the U.P., my apologies for the grave error in the AMR podcast a few weeks ago calling the Mackinac Bridge the Ambassador Bridge. I feel like I’ve failed my Detroit and Yooper homies with that one. Nerves, people. Talking makes me nervous.

That bike race I mentioned last time?

Ready to roll at the start. With one glove. Just call me Michael.

I rode the shorter 28(ish) mile course and went in having no idea what to expect. I’d watched a few home videos on YouTube of riders with cameras attached to their bikes, but after awhile I had to just close the laptop and walk away – these guys were maniacs and it was making me more crazy than calm.

Without going into a huge race report ABOUT BIKES, my impressions:

  • Bikers, like runners, are their own brand of crazy. It’s definitely its own culture and I think feels more intimidating to break into as an outsider. Even though I’ve ridden bikes for most of my life, I feel like I don’t really belong. I’m interested in the gear and love to ogle pretty bikes, but as my life has changed with the addition of children, I don’t have the time anymore to sit and tinker with mechanics. I’m interested in it working and not falling apart when I’m flying down a rocky descent at 27mph (THANK GOD IT DIDN’T FALL APART).
  • I was really nervous in the weeks leading up to this thing. I had put in rides on my bike but they were just 15 mile commutes so that I could get some time in the saddle and reacquaint myself with mountain gearing. I know I didn’t put in enough miles to say “I trained,” but the few I did helped.

But to my surprise, it went really well. Not only did I survive (and emerge mostly unscathed), but I had a freaking blast. After getting over the pre-race jitters and the fact that I only had one glove with me – I had four pairs of shorts in my car but one. stinking. glove. – the gun went off, we rolled out and I just did my thing: ride the bike, pace myself, smile at people, and have fun.

Crossing the finish line and feeling pretty much done, but happy.
Crossing the finish line and feeling pretty much done, but happy.

The course wasn’t nearly as technical as I imagined, though it wasn’t easy. I think anyone considering it would be well served to spend some time on the bike on varied terrain. I’m really glad I didn’t bite off more than I was capable of chewing, i.e., the 48-mile hard rock course, because this was just enough for it to be a challenge yet not be completely soul-sucking hard. I wasn’t looking for the marathon equivalent of a bike race. So yeah, it was kind of like running a half. (A little more than) Half the distance, twice the fun.

Post-race I grabbed a beer from the beer garden and sat to wait on my friends. I gave myself a look: my legs were caked in mud. There was mud on my face, a little road rash on my leg (missed a turn and bit it when I went to make a course correction), and dirt in my bra (how it got there I’m not quite sure). It was one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time: That feeling you get when you’ve done something you didn’t know you could do. I hadn’t had that feeling in a running race in years.

Like I mentioned, I did have one mishap; I missed a turn right near mile 20, made a sharp turn on gravel to correct my course and wiped out, landing on my left side. I’ve got a few nice bruises on my legs from where my bike hit my thigh and where my knee hit the ground. I sat there for a few minutes, first worried that I’d broken something. Second, feeling like a complete dumb ass. The knee was pretty tender for a few days but feels good now, but I’m pretty sure I bruised some ribs on my left side; I still have a little discomfort that feels like a bad muscle strain. But seeing that there were a few riders who suffered worse injuries than I did (I passed a huge pile up on a part of the course called “Clavicle Hill,” if that gives you an idea), I feel pretty lucky.

In all, a good experience a fair substitute for missing a 17 miler scheduled for that day. And now it’s back to my regularly scheduled running training, which is going quite well. Second 20-miler happens this Saturday (!); I put the first in the weekend before the bike race, and I’m actually looking forward to doing something I have never done in the 10+ years I’ve been training for marathons: run more than one 20-miler in a training plan. It also does not hurt that I get to test out this lovely hydration vest, thanks to the super sweet folks at Ultimate Direction.

Ultra Vesta by Ultimate Direction.

Jenny Jurek designed this with the UD peeps. Jenny is married to Scott Jurek the ultra runner. You may have heard of him.

I’m not an ultra runner (yet), but I’m hoping some of that Jurek mojo manifests itself in me this weekend.

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