Tuesday, March 29, 2005

ABOUT ME

"Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight."—Albert Schweitzer

So just who is Tammy Kaufman, also known as Spydersmom (the recreational athlete and animal lover/advocate) and Izdihaar (the amateur musician and dancer)? Well, really just an ordinary woman with an extraordinary willingness to let my imperfections shine in public and an unrelenting desire to follow my dreams. Of course I must express my eternal gratitude to my friends and family for always being there, and encouraging me to live a life that I would never have imagined possible.

My ultimate goal in life is to be as good a person as my dog, Spyder, already thinks I am. He is not only my dog and my buddy, but is also the namesake of my website and the reason behind my deep passion for animal advocacy. One look into his trusting eyes, and I understand the great responsibility we humans have to protect and care for the animals who share this earth with us.
Spyder     Spyder and Me

"A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is a bad as an act of cruelty to a human being.”—Prophet Mohammed

CONTACT ME

CYCLING CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
-Have been and continue to be actively involved in the construction and ongoing maintenance of several local and regional mountain bike trail systems, including those at Wolf Laurel, Wintergreen, New Light WRC, Harris Lake County Park, Lake Crabtree County Park, Clayton's Legend Park, Little River Park, and Beaverdam State Recreational Area
-Published in the #71 issue of Dirt Rag Magazine (pages 23-34), in the #85 issue of Dirt Rag Magazine (page 21), and in the #111 issue of Dirt Rag Magazine
-Featured in 2 articles in the local mountain bike club newsletter, NC FATS "Fat Trax"
-Featured racer on Mountainbikeracer.com -
Mountain Bike Racer
-Member of multiple bike trail advocacy organizations including the North Raleigh Mountain Bike Association and North Carolina Fats
-Won the Overall Cane Creek Series for Sport Women Downhill 2002
-Won the Overall MADHRA (Mid-Atlantic Downhill Race Association) Series for Sport Women Downhill 2002
-Won the Overall MADHRA (Mid-Atlantic Downhill Race Association) Series for Sport Women Downhill 2003
-Have successfully completed 9 solo 24-hour mountain bike races and 9 solo 12-hour mountain bike races, along with multiple solo and duo 6-hour races and multiple duo and team 12 and 24-hour races
-Interviewed by the local newspaper, Raleigh News & Observer, regarding a Beginner Women's Ride Series I organized, 3/7/2003
-Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal 3/14/2003 regarding mountain bike racing
-Interviewed by a Virginia newspaper, Daily News Leader, regarding the Timber Rattler Downhill Race, 7/30/2003
-Spotlight Athlete in Endurance Magazine 10/2003
-Have had full length articles published in the 12/2003, 5/2004, 6/2004, 8/2004 and 11/2004 issues of Endurance Magazine
-Qualified for the 2003 World Solo 24 Hour Championships
-Named to the 2003 United States Masters Mountain Bike World Championship Team
-Winner of the mtbchick.com Flower Power Award for Overall Best Amateur Mountain Biker of 2003 -
MTB Chick
-Interviewed by a local newspaper, Winston Salem Journal, regarding the Burn 24 Hour Challenge Race, 5/28/2004
-Qualified for the 2004 World Solo 24 Hour Championships
-Won 1st Place in the NORBA Nationals Overall Series for Women 40+ Marathon 2004
-Placed 4th in the NORBA Nationals Overall Series for Women 40+ Super Downhill 2004
-Interviewed by a local newspaper, Durham Herald-Sun, regarding bicycle racing, 10/26/2004
-Interviewed by Tyler Benedict of Source Drinks at the Burn 24 Hour Mountain Bike Challenge, 5/29/2005 -
Burn Race Quicktime Video


DANCE HIGHLIGHTS
-Interviewed by a local newspaper, The Wake Weekly, about my experiences as a dance student, October 21, 2004
-First public dance performance at the Belly Revelations Student Hafla, performed as a veil duo to Isis, November 13, 2004 at Triangle Dance Studio
-One of the participating dancers in the second video in the instructional dance series produced by Qadria and Belly Revelations, "Bellydance Moves and Combinations Anyone Can Do"


Most importantly, I adore my husband Steve, our cat Andy, and our two dogs, Spyder and Zoe, with whom I am fortunate enough to be able to share my life and my love.

"The indifference, callousness and contempt that so many people exhibit toward animals is evil first because it results in great suffering in animals, and second because it results in an incalculably great impoverishment of the human spirit." ~Ashley Montague

INTERVIEWS

Raleigh News Observer Interview
Wall Street Journal Interview
Daily News Leader Interview
Winston Salem Journal Interview
Durham Herald Sun Interview
Wake Weekly Interview

Burn 24 Hour Quicktime Video

TOP FIVE

Do a few 24 hour races, and it is bound to happen. Folks who have not tried one yet are going to ask you why you do it. After doing these things for the past several years, I have been asked that question so many times I have lost count. So I figured I would lay out a list of the Top 5 to hopefully enlighten those of you who have not yet endeavored to experience one of the most popular current mountain bike crazes.

5. You have unlimited opportunities to totally embarrass yourself in public. Take for example, my nutritional inexperience at one of my earlier endurance events. I was so concerned that I would not take in sufficient fluids that I apparently overdid it. Of course, nature called as usual, right smack dab in the middle of one of my night laps, as far away from a portajohn as possible. So, being the industrious woman that I am, I parked my bike next to a tree off the side of the trail, and scurried off into some relatively thick underbrush in order to relieve my painfully full bladder. Just as I was preparing to pull my tights back up, I heard the familiar masculine voice of one of my friends who was also racing, yelling to me that perhaps I should have turned off the flashing red tail light attached to the hydration pack I was still wearing.

4. And on a similar note, you can look like a total fool and not even care. If you are even aware of it, that is. Again, early in my endurance racing career, I had received in my schwag bag a tube of chamois cream at one of the events. Unfortunately, I failed to read the directions, which clearly indicate that a little goes a long way. Let me just make a long story short here, and say that if you are going to glob that stuff on, wear white shorts instead of black ones, preferably using the same color scheme on your saddle.

3. You can (and if you happen to be racing solo WILL) look like absolute crap and probably not even care, at least by the end of the race. Just one little bit of advice for the ladies here. If you are going to start the race trying to look like a diva, make sure that the eye makeup you choose is water and sweat-proof. I can recall at least a couple of times that I should have just gone ahead and registered as Rocky Raccoon.

2. You get to wear the most ridiculous looking outfits in the world, and have people applaud you for it. If you have ever seen me race, I do not think I need to say anything more.

1. And the number one reason to do a 24 hour race? You get to play in the dirt with your bike and your friends all day and all night! You will pay a good chunk of money to get no sleep, strain your muscles to their limits, snap at your friends who are trying to help you, eat bizarre food products, and wonder why you did this. You will complain in the wee hours of the morning that you are never going to put yourself through this again. But 15 minutes after the end of the race, you will already be planning for the next one. It is a vicious cycle. It is an addiction. "Hello. My name is Tammy, and I am a 24 hour race addict." "Hello, Tammy."

WINTERGREEN

With my ever advancing age of over 40 now, I frequently think maybe it's time to stop downhill racing, which is actually just a euphemism for throwing myself down the side of a mountain on a bicycle; to give up sweltering in the hot sun wrapped in layers of body armor and a motocross helmet, waiting at a start line that I swear is only 5 feet away from the sun itself for the countdown letting me know that it's time once again to taunt death by hurtling myself and my bike through rocks and roots, wedging between tight trees down some several hundred or more feet of trail, just to see how fast I can do it. Yes, sometimes I think it's time to give that up.

Then, I'll go to a race like the Timber Rattler at Wintergreen, Virginia this past weekend. This event was truly an experiment in just how much fun downhill racing can be, for people of all ages and all ability levels. There were three separate downhill trails for the three basic categories - Beginner, Sport and Expert - so that everyone could be tested at the appropriate level for their respective skills. Each trail had varying amounts of rock gardens, steep chutes, twisty hairpin turns, jumps, drops, logs, etc., with each carefully gauged to fit the skill level of the riders for which it was designed. The builders took painstaking care to ensure a fair playing field for each race category's course. Even Mother Nature chimed in, giving us such beautiful clear blue skies that it almost looked painted that way. Few races I have attended have run as smoothly as this one - registration was a breeze, the ski timing equipment was precise, course marshals very helpful, spectators vociferously cheering on every single rider all along the courses, even ice-cold water provided both up top and at the bottom of the mountain for exhausted racers. And of course, the downhillers themselves, as usual, were nothing short of totally supportive of one another. I've often thought that going to a downhill race is more of a festival than a race. It's a time to meet up with friends that perhaps live too far away to visit otherwise, to share some friendly competition, and to learn from one another. I view the folks I race with more as family than competitors, and that was certainly true at Wintergreen this past weekend. The Timber Rattler definitely had a festive atmosphere going, all the way down to the final awards ceremony, which actually included a raffle based on race number plates, wherein everyone had an equal chance at going home with something cool. As a race venue, Wintergreen has it all - beautiful cross-country trails, a magnitude of downhill trails that boggles the mind, including a 7 mile downhill run that ends at the very bottom of the mountain, where you will be chauffeured back up top by the shuttle. But the best thing about this past weekend's race, for me anyway, were the memories I brought home of the first (annual, I hope) Timber Rattler downhill race at Wintergreen.

THE GIFT

I was frustrated. Once again I had been more or less dropped during a mountain bike ride. Somehow, despite my technical ineptness I had managed to almost catch up to a fast group of skilled riders on a very difficult mountain bike trail, one which I rarely even attempt due to its level of technical difficulty and its high propensity for separating me from both my bike and my confidence. I was barely hanging on and just able to keep a glimpse of the riders ahead of me, but still out there. I had gone on this ride at my husband’s urging, as he had just purchased a new camera and wanted us to practice using it by photographing some of the riders this particular evening. As I rounded an exceptionally rocky twisty corner, I felt my rear tire slip, and suddenly I was stopped dead in my tracks by an unseen root right in the apex of the turn. While straightening my handlebars, my attention was drawn to a subtle glimmer on the trail. At first I thought someone had perhaps dropped a large piece of jewelry – I suppose it didn’t occur to me that most people don’t actually wear large pieces of jewelry when they ride. On closer inspection I realized it was a rock, but not just any old rock.

Now, it’s worth mentioning at this point that I have been going through a very rough time with my riding for the past several months, feeling quite discouraged and disappointed with what I perceived as a lack of improvement, despite riding nearly every day. Through all this, though, one person has been by my side, encouraging, supporting, and riding back with me to keep me company as well as to try and help me with technical sections where I was having difficulty. That person is my husband and best friend in the entire world. Although I thought he had ridden on ahead to stay up with the faster folks, it turns out that he actually had ridden ahead in order to take pictures of me riding, being very careful to photograph me in sections of trail where I felt comfortable and confident and looked like I knew what I was doing. He told me later he wanted me to see that my riding skills were better than I realized, and he wanted me to have those pictures as proof.

As I reached down to pick up this rock which had so inexplicably attracted my attention, I noticed something quite extraordinary about it. With a smile making its way across my face, upon taking the rock into my palm I realized that it was in the unmistakable shape of a perfect heart.

NOT JUST FOR TOMBOYS

"You carry lipstick in your Camelbak?" My (male) friend was incredulous when he caught me putting my flavored and tinted lip balm into my hydration pack before heading out onto the trail, and that got me started wondering. Perhaps that's why so many women are hesitant to take up mountain biking. No, not because of the lipstick. Because there is no stigma to being a tomboy who mountain bikes, but there does seem to be a misconception that to succeed in the sport, one has to surrender her femininity. Fortunately, though, that's all it is, a misconception. There are so many "girly-girls" who ride, and ride hard. Ever hear of Paula Pezzo, on her pink Gary Fisher, with her pink helmet, wearing mascara and lipstick, winning the Olympic Gold in her metalflake shorts? Or what about Jamie Little - yes, that gorgeous woman with the ESPN microphone interviewing all the motocross stars? That's right, she's a top-notch downhiller. I saw her at Nationals at Snowshoe last year, wearing all white motocross pants and jersey, winning her class with freshly applied lipstick and red nail polish. Or Anka Martin and April Lawyer, who look and sound more like fashion models than downhillers, but boldly take on the toughest courses fearlessly and with more guts and determination than many men. And then there is my own personal mountain biking heroine, Jacquie Phelan, who has won more titles than I could ever list on this page including numerous NORBA National Championships, who always raced wearing pearls and usually in a frilly white blouse. These women, and many others, have accomplished incredible feats of athleticism in the biking world, and yet have retained all that makes them women, proudly sporting their femininity. As one hard-riding young lady put it, "We're coming to the bike trail, and we're bringing our skirts with us." They make me proud, not only to be a mountain biker, but to be a woman mountain biker. So yes, I do carry lipstick in my Camelbak, which I strap happily onto the shoulders of my flower print jersey atop my pastel green skort, and ride.

TAKING THE LEAP

Nancy Reagan has been quoted as saying “A woman is like a tea bag -- only in hot water do you realize how strong she is.” Never was this truer in my own situation than back in June of 2004 when I decided, on a whim really, to participate in the National Off-road Bicycle Association (NORBA) Nationals inaugural Marathon mountain bike series. NORBA had decided this season to institute a Marathon bike race in their annual mountain bike series consisting of multiple events in various cities across the United States, to go along with the traditional fare of Cross Country, Downhill and Mountain Cross. Racers participating in the individual events would be vying for a year-end series award in addition to the medals offered at each specific venue. As an endurance bike racer for the past several years, I figured I would give the new Marathon a shot – I mean, after doing multiple solo 24 hour events, how tough could it be, right? Apparently I had forgotten how brutal and unforgiving the terrain of West Virginia can be, particularly during the infamous rainy season which is June in that region. Snowshoe Mountain is littered with loose slippery rocks, and there are large tree roots spiderwebbed all across the singletrack. The sections of the course consisting of doubletrack are severely steep and seemingly endless, reaching up to what appears to be infinity. However, I firmly believe, as Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”, and so I signed up and decided to take the plunge.

Naturally, on arriving at the start line for the Marathon in the early morning hours on that early June Thursday morning, the skies were dark and threatening, and it had in fact been raining the entire week previously. There was only one other woman in my age group of 40+, and a total of only about 41 entrants altogether, roughly half of which were pros. On the start, I took my time and headed into the trail very close to the back of the pack. The course was immediately slick and treacherous, and I’m not a very technical rider anyway, so things were looking grim from the beginning. I loosened up a bit once I reached the doubletrack climb and settled into a nice rhythm. Unfortunately that was soon to change. After a couple of miles of climbing, the trail headed into the woods, where I was faced with mile after mile of slippery, rooty, rocky singletrack which I found virtually unrideable. So I dismounted, heaved my bike onto my shoulder and ran. A lot. I ran for what seemed like an eternity, and to make things worse, there were course markers indicating which way the trail actually went only very sporadically, so there were many times when I wasn’t even sure I was going the right way, until I would happen across a marker which fortunately indicated that I was traveling in the right direction. It seemed that the only sections of trail I could ride were the steep, exhausting, gravel-strewn fireroad climbs. I was discouraged, disappointed and disillusioned, wondering what on earth had possessed me to attempt something like this. Shortly after that, I was passed by a couple of cross country riders who were preriding for their race later in the weekend. With their shouts of encouragement reawakening my spirit, I pressed on. That is, until I came to a 25 foot wide creek criss-crossing the trail. I stopped, and noticed a course marshal sitting on the opposite bank, reading a book. I yelled across to ask if I was in the right place, to which he responded “Yep.” I asked if anyone had managed to ride across this body of water. “Nope – not even the lead motorcycle – everybody has had to walk it.” So I once again gathered up my bike and stepped into the water, which rapidly rose up to my hips! There were slick loose rocks in the bottom, and tiny fish snapping at my ankles and shins as I waded through. I struggled up through the deep sand on the opposite bank, then remounted and headed down the gravel road to the next creek crossing. This creek was shallower, so I rode slowly through. By this time, I was so tired that I tried to just stay on my bike and crawl very slowly through the singletrack where I could, and rode painfully slowly up the climbs. As I wound around the trail, I noticed a course marshal sitting on a ledge up above the trail, shouting encouragement to me, and asking if I needed any food or water. I had plenty, but asked how far in last place I was. He told me that nearly half the entrants (including half the pros!) had already resigned from the race, and taken a DNF (race term for “Did Not Finish”), so I was already in the top half by still hanging in there! At this point, I had been on the course for probably 5 hours, it was starting to rain, and I was exhausted. But I was determined to see this thing to the bitter end, so I pressed on.

I couldn’t believe how treacherous this trail became. There was one section in particular which struck sheer terror into my heart. After riding an off-camber ledge for a couple of miles, the trail suddenly dropped down into a giant hole, with a drop off to the left that looked like it fell into the gaping maw of hell itself. The only way through was to toss my bike up over an uprooted tree on the trail, and then grab the limbs and climb up. I was barely able to do this, being rather short, but somehow I managed to get both my bike and my body up and over this tree and continue on.

Upon rounding the next corner, I realized that I was probably still over 2 hours from the finish line, as I was just now passing the Silver Creek Lodge which is close to the bottom of Snowshoe Mountain, with the finish line at the very peak. I wanted to cry, but didn’t even have the energy to do that. I alternated between riding and pushing my bike until I got to the last section of singletrack. At this point, the course marshals told me I only had about one more mile to go. Liars! By my computer, the trail snaking its way up to the crest of the mountain was over 4 miles – a rocky, rooty, muddy, slimy, wet 4 miles – but I rode it. I rode every last inch of it. I had finally crossed out onto the last fireroad, but didn’t know how close I was to the finish, when a woman rode by me. She encouraged me to keep going, and told me I only had to round one last corner to finish, so as painful as it was, I kept pedaling. Then I saw it – the finish line. And I also saw the timing clock. It said 7 hours and 25 minutes, so I hurriedly set a mini goal for myself – to beat 7 and a half hours. I dug deep and found my will again. I stood up and pedaled as hard as I ever have, to cross the finish line at 7 hours and 29 minutes.

I was thrilled to have finished, but sad because I suspected I had finished last, as slowly as I had been muddling through the course. I asked the NORBA official when the results would be posted, and he told me that I had won for my age group! Amazingly, this race win put in me in first place for the series. I anxiously awaited the results for each successive Marathon series event, always assuming that my temporary title would be lost. However, as it turned out, this win at one of the most difficult venues I have ever raced was sufficient to give me the Overall Marathon Series Title for 2004 for the Women 40+ category. As inspirational author, Kobi Yamada, said “Sometimes you just have to take the leap, and build your wings on the way down.”

SPIRIT OF MOUNTAIN BIKING

In April of 1995, when I rode my very first bicycle, I had no idea that 7 years later I would be chronicling my retirement from solo 24 hour endurance racing at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin in Conyers, Georgia. I also never dreamed that my paltry attempts at mountain bike competition would change my life in so many ways. In 2000, I entered my first 24 hour solo race - also at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin in Conyers. I was very afraid and intimidated, so to counter that, I donned full leopardskin apparel and rode a leopardskin painted bike, much the same way my own mother used to camouflage her insecurities by outward flamboyance (she had a VW beetle painted up like a ladybug, so I come by it honestly)! Completing that event was a life-altering experience for someone like me who is not by nature a competitive or even very athletic person, so I wrote a story about it and sent it to TriLife, the race promoters. Little did I know what an impact that simple action was going to have.

During the following two years, I competed in many mountain bike events, including cross-country, solo endurance, and downhill racing. I never really developed the competitive drive that winners have, so placed last most of the time. I had joined a team and obtained sponsors, and tried very hard to make it as a mountain bike racer, but in so doing, began to lose the joy of simply riding. I felt the pressures of not winning weighing heavily upon my team jersey-clad shoulders, and felt somewhat naked and exposed without my comforting outrageous animal print attire. I began to get very discouraged, only finding happiness in my riding when I either went out for recreational rides in total solitude, or could help teach beginners. Oddly enough, despite the fact that my own riding skills are minimal at best, I was able to teach others to do things that I myself could not - to the point that within weeks those same beginners could successfully compete at races and consistently place well above me. This, while very rewarding in some ways, was frustrating in others. Yet, I continued on attempting to race, yet never really developing into a real "competitor". I went everywhere and raced a jam-packed season in 2002, including 2 full downhill series (both of which I won overall despite placing last in all but 3 of the total events - sometimes quantity can overcome quality!), and 2 NORBA Nationals in both cross-country and downhill (where again I placed last, although at Vermont I was the sole competitor in my category, so that was a bittersweet "victory"). My final race of this season was to be my retirement from solo 24 hour endurance, and I felt it appropriate to be at the same venue where I first began, the 24 Hours of Adrenalin at Conyers, Georgia.

On my arrival to Conyers, I was still in the discouraged slump where I had spent most of the entire 2002 race season. However, that was all soon to change. For this, my swan song race, I decided to don once again my apparently now famous animal print bike clothes, complete with the helmet covers, ears and all. Before I even got lined up for the LeMans start, a delightful young man from Florida approached me, saying he wanted to meet the lady who inspired him to compete as a solo rider. His name was Jose, and as he had two fractured kneecaps and could not run, we decided to hold hands and walk the entire LeMans start. This was the beginning of the most amazing weekend of my life to this point. After feeling virtually invisible for two solid years (well, except for the fact that I had such an outstanding race record of roughly 95% last place finishes), I was astounded to discover how many people apparently knew who I was. I quickly lost count of how many people approached me, both on and off the course, to tell me how my internet "stories" had inspired them to attempt (and achieve) things they had never thought possible; how they had never thought they could compete in a 24 hour race until they read my 2000 account of this event. I was humbled, inspired, incredulous. I had no idea that simply putting my feelings to "paper" would have touched so many lives. All throughout the day and night, I was encouraged, cheered and supported by spectators and fellow racers calling out to me, not only with "Yay solo" or "Go number 7", but actually yelling my name. It was the most amazing thing I had ever experienced. I began to realize that I was apparently leaving behind a legacy that meant more to me than any race win ever could. The pain of so many last place finishes paled and I felt the sheer joy again of simply being on my bike, surrounded by so many others experiencing that same joy. I was slow, very slow, reduced to walking up nearly all the big climbs on the course after my first couple of laps, but that gave me the opportunity to meet and talk with many wonderful people.

I took the advice of a dear friend and my inspiration, Jacquie Phelan, who had told me earlier "I
hope nothing quashes your love of riding, pure and simple. I have noticed that racing beyond a certain point (different in all people) can slowly or suddenly quash it. Be aware of that glowing ember, let it glow." I paid attention to and cherished everything about riding - the sunlight peaking through the clouds, the soft cooling breeze, the moonlight and the way it threw shadows, the grass glistening with morning dew, the field mice scurrying across the trail, the smell of the dirt, the rustling leaves, the intricate patterns of the rock faces, the trees swaying and creaking, the rivulets of water streaming over the granite, the way the ruts in the trail shape-shifted after each rider crossed through, even the "squish" of the muddy moss. I listened to the sound of my own breathing, my heart beating, felt my muscles work through cramps and fatigue, and marveled at the capabilities of the human body. I was no longer "racing" - I was living, and it was glorious, painful, thrilling, overwhelming. I wanted to laugh, cry, scream - so I did. I giggled, I sang, I wept, I talked to myself and the chipmunk that darted into the woods beside me.

When the clock passed noon on Sunday, I didn't want the ride to stop. I was exhausted, but I had found whatever it was that made me start riding those seven years ago, that "ember" was once again glowing. I owe more than I can ever repay to every single person who has ever cheered for me, encouraged me, supported me, or even just smiled in my direction - you brought me back alive, and refreshed in me "the spirit of mountain biking".

THE ONE THAT STARTED IT ALL

Tears welled in my eyes as I neared the second checkpoint signaling two more miles to go on my ninth and final lap at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin mountain bike race in Conyers, Georgia. It was around noon on Sunday, September 17, 2000, and 24 hours earlier I had begun this race as one of only two solo women riders. Although I realized fully at this point that I would not win this race since my competitor already had one more lap than me, my tears had nothing to do with sorrow. You see, five and a half years ago, on April 9, 1995, I rode my very first bicycle. I was 33 years old, and had always been a horsewoman. However, after losing my horse to a broken leg, my then boyfriend (now husband) convinced me to try biking as a new alternative to a sport that had dominated my entire life to that point. I was afraid at first - a middle aged woman learning to ride a bike? But with his patience and my determination, I was able to figure out the brakes, gears, etc. Now, five years later, here I was, not only competing in, but finishing the ominous solo category of a 24 hour endurance bike race. I had always seen the Ironman Triathlon documentaries on television, and watched with utter amazement as grown men and women fell to their knees and sobbed after completing the race, even though they were near last place in their categories. Today, however, I understood completely what they felt, despite the fact that I am speechless to explain it to someone else. I did somehow manage to clear my vision sufficiently to cross the finish line and even get to my pit area before collapsing into my husband/support crew/mechanic/best friend's arms, sobbing like a child.

I'm not really sure what prompted me to even want to do this race. Although I had shown horses for many years, I never considered myself to be a very competitive person, and being such a novice in the bike world, not to mention fearful of nearly every obstacle one finds on the trail, bike racing in general is a terrifying prospect for me. I did race some, though, and surprisingly placed fairly well on many occasions. In the horse world, women are quite numerous, so competition is very tough. What I found in biking, especially mountain biking, though, is that there really aren't that many women my age out there at all, much less racing. Maybe it's because mountain bikes as a whole are a relatively new concept compared to, say, horses or even road bikes, and when women my age were kids, there simply weren't any mountain bikes. What this translates into is that the field for my category is just not that big, so placing in a race is pretty easy much of the time. Still, being the perfectionist that I am, I always gave everything I had at every race, even if I was the only competitor or only one of a few.

Then in 1998, my husband joined a team and competed in the 24 Hours of Canaan. The weather was miserable, cold and wet, but we went anyway, and I provided support for him. Despite the poor conditions, the idea of such an endurance event intrigued me. I shied away from the team idea, though, fearing that no matter who was on it, I would be the weakest link. It may be a female thing, or just something in my own mind, but being the "slow one" and/or getting in the way is one of the biggest fears I face in my riding, so I always avoided joining any groups who might want to do one of those races.

However, in November of 1998, I finally got a chance to try my hand at an endurance event, without the fear of causing others to fail. A local promoter was putting on 12 hour mountain bike races, and the course was only about an hour and a half away from my home. My husband, Steve, formed a team while I decided to go it alone, and race the solo category and provide my own support. I fully expected to just get a couple of laps completed on the 4.3 mile technical course, but ended up surprising myself and everyone else who knew me by completing ten laps. I continued to participate in these races, despite having to compete with the men (no other women ever signed up, and the promoter would not make a separate category for just one rider), mainly because they were the only races of this type near my home that I knew about. To my amazement, I continued to do well, placing exactly in the middle of the men each time. I competed in this series of races a total of five times.

Then, in June of this year, I heard about the 24 Hours of Adrenalin series. According to their website, they chose courses that were designed more for the average rider than the brutal courses that attempt to chew you up and spit you out. "I wonder if I could do this", I thought, and just thinking it made me decide to sign up. Of course, as soon as the credit card charge went through, I became horrified - what had I just done? Here I am, nearly 40 years old, ten pounds heavier than I should be, with no knowledge of race training, and I'm going to try to ride a 24 hour race?

So I went to work. I bought some books on training, learned how to use my heart rate monitor, dug out my free weights, and wrote out as good a training schedule as an amateur going it alone could do. For the most part, I stuck with it. However, the weather became quite uncooperative, raining unbelievably more than usual for the summer months, which meant I had to rely more on my road bike. So road bike I did. I worked on sprinting, something called cruise intervals, and just putting miles on the saddle. I rode my mountain bike when I could, and worked on my free weights sporadically - something I'm going to work harder on this coming season - and kept my fingers crossed that this would be enough during the three short months I had to get ready for the "big race".

It seemed like no time at all before Steve, our two dogs and I arrived at the Georgia International Horse Park on Friday afternoon before the race. Luckily, the weather was perfect, highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s, the entire weekend. Steve prerode the course for me, realizing that I would see it plenty enough over the approaching 24 hours. According to him, it was difficult with many short steep climbs, but doable enough.

Finally, it was Saturday morning. I, along with the other solo woman and the 12 solo men as well as the team captains, attended the mandatory captain's meeting, then went back to the campsite to dress for the first lap. I have always loved leopardskin print, even as a child, so to make light of not feeling like I was a very good rider, I had my bike painted leopardskin to match the Shebeest clothing that I wore during most of my earlier races. Somehow making biking fun made it seem less scary and competitive to me, and let me relax and just have fun. So anyway, when we were called to the start line to begin the Lemans start, I was in full attire with a leopard jersey, helmet cover complete with bow ears, and black tights with leopard print down the sides of the legs. After running what seemed like 100 miles to my non-running self, I finally arrived at the bike rack, where I jumped on my leopardskin painted bike and rode off on my first lap.

While technical is probably not what most of the better riders out there would call this course, it most certainly was to an intermediate rider like myself. My first lap, I worked out many fear issues about the dropoffs, steep downhills and lung-busting climbs. I quickly managed to master the downhills and dropoffs, thanks to my diminutive (I'm 5'2") full-suspension Titus bikes (at my age, four and five inches of travel is a necessity, not a luxury), but decided to simply walk most of the hills, as I soon discovered I had not developed the strength I needed to climb these efficiently, especially not for a 24 hour period repeatedly. After I passed our campsite, I found out that I hadn't seen the difficult section yet! Steep downhill switchbacks, incredible huge granite slickrock, creek crossings and even the obligatory log, as well as even more steep climbs awaited me on the second half of the 7 or 8 mile course. I managed to conquer most of these as well, although once again walked the really scary switchbacks and the uphills.

At last I crossed the finish for the first time, after what seemed like an eternity. Kerry, the other solo female, for the most part led our category, and I realized the first time she passed me on one of the climbs that she was far stronger than I was. But I was determined to not let myself get defeated mentally, especially not this early in the race. Besides, I had so many fabulous outfits to wear! So after each lap, I changed clothes. I wore leopardskin, snowcat, velvet, velour, and hologram patterns, changing constantly throughout the race. I know it took some extra time, but I also knew that the course, and Kerry, were tougher than I expected, and if I couldn't be remembered for winning, then I would be remembered for my appearance. I was feeling very good about the race, and thinking I might even be able to catch Kerry, as she was frequently on the same lap as I was. Then dusk arrived.

Steve had strapped my lights onto my second bike for me, and I headed out into the night. Suddenly the course was very different. I found myself walking even the few and far between flat stretches, missing lines, washing out in ruts. I knew I needed rest, so stopped after my sixth lap for a quick nap, which turned into an hour and a half. Shortly after midnight, I headed back out again, and learned that I was definitely not rested enough; I was cold, tired, disoriented on the trail, and having a hard time riding at all. So I stopped again at the campsite for another quick rest, this one turning into four and a half hours.

As daybreak spread across the sky, I leaped off the sleeping bag. What time was it? 6:45??? No, it can't be that late! I threw on some clothes and raced out to my bike, hurrying out onto the course without stopping to eat this time. As I sprinted through the finish line yet again and ran back to the camper for the next change of clothes, I realized that in my earlier dressing frenzy, I had put on the wrong tights, the ones with no chamois; well, at least that explained why the course felt so much rougher. Luckily, I had bought a new saddle right before the race, and I must admit the Terry Butterfly certainly did its job. At this point, I was told that as of the 2:00 a.m. posting, I was in the lead for the solo women! I was pumped, ready to ride, and so went out for what would later turn out to be my final lap. I was hanging tough, feeling good about things, and then learned that Kerry had gotten out onto the course before me, and was now a lap ahead of me. This news came at around 10:30 a.m., and I knew then I was not going to win. I think this must have been the lowest point for me. All the negative voices in my head began their usual ruckus - whatever made you think you could do this, you're too old, too fat, too weak, too scared, etc. - and then I realized why I was here competing in this race right now. It was for everyone who has ever been told "you can't do that", "it's too difficult", "you'll fail and look stupid", the list goes on and on. So I sucked it up, and walked up that last tough climb, I think in Georgia they call it "Olympic Hill", proudly, knowing that no, I wasn't going to win this race, but that I wasn't going to lose, either. I was going to finish it. And not only that, but I was going to finish it in style. Yes, I weigh more than I should, and no, a chubby woman maybe shouldn't wear leopard print or snowcat and silver, yes shiny, sparkly silver, short-shorts to finish a race, but that's exactly what I did. I did it because I could, and because I had earned it. This race was the hardest thing I've ever done, but I did it, and if you're wondering if maybe you could do it too, the answer is "Yes, you can".

I felt so much support and encouragement during this race, both from the other competitors and the support people (including the Trilife staff), and even though I wanted it to be over so badly early Sunday morning, that finish line reading 24:13:19 was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen at that moment, and I'm already considering doing it again next year. Maybe I'll see you out there, too!

SO YOU WANT TO DOWNHILL

With more and more ski resorts opening their doors during the off-season to mountain bikers lately, downhill racing is becoming increasingly popular, and an ever-growing number of women are being drawn to this exciting and thrilling activity. So if you’re one of those women who have thought to yourself that downhill bike racing sounds fun, but you just don’t know where to start, here is your checklist! First of all, let’s get rid of some of the fallacies about downhill bike racing.

“It’s dangerous.” Yes, it can be dangerous, but so can driving a car or potentially even walking down the sidewalk. You just have to use good judgment, and get properly outfitted – which will be discussed below.

“You have to be inordinately strong to do it.” Women are just as capable of racing downhill as men – while we may not generally be as physically strong, we often have an ability to see lines and finesse our way through some pretty amazing terrain.

“It’s expensive.” Well, it can be, but so can any sporting activity. However, most beginner races, which is probably what you’re looking at doing if this is your first downhill race, can be done on a surprisingly small budget, usually even with your current bike with just a few minor adjustments.

“It’s scary.” Well, yes, it is. But you can make it less scary by following the guidelines below!

Okay, so you’ve gotten past the initial roadblocks and are ready to try your first downhill race. So what do you need to know and do before heading out to the slope for the first time? First of all, for most beginner races, and especially the smaller local ones, your current cross country bike may be plenty suitable with just some minor adjustments as below, especially if it is a full suspension bike (hardtails require a little more skill and are a bit less comfortable to ride downhill, although they are fine on many beginner courses):

Lower your seat. This is very important in order to lower your center of gravity and also to allow you more mobility and confidence over steep terrain. Generally the steeper the terrain, the lower your seat needs to be. Depending on your frame style, you may need to get a second post if you can’t lower your current one far enough. On the really steep stuff, I like to have my seat low enough so that I can sit on the saddle and still touch both feet to the ground.

If you have trouble reaching your brake levers when you have your butt behind your saddle, you may want to bring your levers in (most bike shops can do this for you) or possibly even get a shorter stem for downhilling. Also practice getting behind your seat – it does take some getting used to in order to feel comfortable steering from back there. However, should you get into trouble on a steep section; the safest way to bail is off the back of the bike. NEVER try to dismount by putting your body between the saddle and the stem on a steep descent – that is a very bad place to be, as it can cause the bike to flip over and trap you! While on the topic of brake levers, rotate them so that they are more up, rather than pointing down toward the ground, so your arms can be more in a straight line without an angle to the wrists. In addition, don’t tighten the levers so much on the bar that they will not rotate, as this will allow them to turn rather than break off should you happen to hit them on something during a crash.

Riser bars will help with keeping the front end of the bike up and centering your body weight. For proper downhill bike setup, you should feel almost like you are sliding back toward the back tire when sitting on the bike on level ground, especially if your race course is steep. For the severely steep courses, I actually tip the nose of my saddle up just a bit to ensure that I keep my weight centered back and do not get too far forward!

If you’re using your cross country bike, use fatter tires; these provide more comfort and frequently greater traction for downhill conditions.

All right. Now your bike is set up and ready. But what about you? To ensure your safety and give you more confidence, you’ll need body armor. The standard downhill race armor setup consists of the following items:

Full face helmet. As I have a rather smallish head, I actually use a child’s motocross helmet. The downside is these have no vents so they are hot. However, they are quite solid and extremely protective. Make sure the helmet is not too large. The first few times you put it on, it should actually feel almost tight – the padding inside will compress with wear, and you do not want a full face helmet that slips around on your head. This is potentially dangerous, as a too-large helmet can possibly slip down and obscure your vision. Most of the visors can be adjusted up if needed to avoid interfering with your view. These helmets will often feel bulky and restrictive at first, but you will get used to it. Granted, you can race beginner downhill in a regular cross country helmet, but be aware that you have an exposed face and lower jaw area in that situation, and if you do crash, try to protect those areas.

Goggles or glasses. I prefer goggles as they are generally less likely to break than glasses, and I think provide greater visibility. Ski goggles tend to fog up less than motorcycle goggles as they are designed for slightly lower speeds, more compatible with a bicycle. Be sure to use an antifog agent on them prior to racing. They should fit snugly within the face opening in the helmet.

Gloves. These should be full-fingered, and preferably have rubber type “armor” on the fingers.

Chest protector. I prefer the actual mountain bike version as opposed to the hard plastic motocross types, which leave your sides and flanks exposed. I use one which has hard plastic inserts inside a mesh covering for the spine and chest areas, with a “bellyband” for kidney and abdominal protection. Make sure the back of your chest protector does not interfere with your helmet when you raise your head – you want to be able to look up and see where you are going without hitting the back of your helmet on your spine protector!

Elbow guards. I generally do not use these, as my chest protector has integrated arm guards attached to it. These ideally should have hard plastic or foam type inserts going along the elbow joint and possibly even the forearm as well. Mine also has a hard plastic shoulder cap protector.

Shin and knee guards. These should fasten on the calf area as well as above or at the knee. Otherwise, the knee flap will tend to fall forward if you crash, leaving your knee joint exposed. They should also have hard plastic or foam type inserts at both the knee joint and running along the shin. The calf area may be fully covered, or just have elastic Velcro attachment bands. If you use flat pedals with “teeth”, you may want to consider full calf coverage in case your pedals swing around and hit you from behind; alternatively you can wear long pants to cover your calves.

Pants or shorts and tops. If you use flat “toothed” pedals and have no calf protection with your shin guards, you may want to consider long pants, just in case your pedals swing around to hit you from behind. I use motocross style pants and shorts which are generally a nylon and Kevlar combination. These usually come with replaceable hip pads which Velcro in, but I only use those pads on the really sketchy courses. However, that’s just my vanity since the pads add an extra width to my hips that I prefer not to have! I wear regular padded bike shorts underneath. Pretty much any jersey or top that fits over your body armor is fine! Motocross style jerseys are designed to go over body armor, so work well for this.

Now that you’re outfitted and your bike is ready to go, let’s head up to the start house! Obviously you can ride most downhill courses without having to attend a race, and the above preparations will serve you for that. In fact, many people enjoy riding downhill without ever racing at all. However, should you decide that you want to try your hand at an actual timed event, keep in mind that most downhill races will require you to practice at least one run on the course prior to your race run, and usually you will have multiple opportunities. At the bigger races, you will generally have an actual covered area with an electronic beeper (just like the one at the Tour de France Time Trials); with a timekeeper there to let you know how many beeps they will give you before you start. Usually five beeps and you go on the sixth, but it may vary. Go ahead and get in a big enough gear for the steepness of the start, and take a few long deep breaths to loosen up. Whether or not you have an actual “start house” and electronic timer, you will have a human timer; this person will normally count down your 15 or 10 seconds to start and then tell you when you can go.

Once you’re on course, try not to worry about the rider starting behind you (normally 30-60 second intervals). Trust me, you will hear them if they catch you and need to pass! Take the course as it comes, and try to maintain your speed. Most downhill course obstacles are designed to be easier taken with a little speed, and if you happen to have a longer travel bike, it will handle a lot more than you might think. Keep your weight centered back and your breathing steady – don’t forget to exhale! Should you catch the rider ahead of you, give her warning that you are approaching and let her know on which side you wish to pass. Ideally, try to find a section that is less treacherous for passing, for the safety of both of you. Should someone catch you, try to move as far to the side as possible when it is safe for you to do so and let them by. Don’t forget to pedal as hard as you can on any flat sections rather than coasting – after all, it is a race! Use your brakes as sparingly as you feel comfortable, although you can “squeeze and release” to actually gain some speed on the descents. Remember that pedaling will generally require you to stand in order to get maximum power since your seat is low. Use any berms available for cornering as this will allow you to maintain your speed better, and if you get offline, just go with it rather than panicking. For the really steep and treacherous stuff, you can get way off the back of the bike, and almost “walk” or “scooter” it down, still holding the handlebars, of course. If you happen to crash, gather yourself and your bike, look behind you to make sure the coast is clear, and then jump back onto your bike and get going! The easiest and safest way to do this is the way Shaums March taught me – that is, stand on the side of your bike, holding the bars in riding position, then gently let off the brakes and jump onto the bike, letting your thigh contact the saddle first. Once you cross the finish line, make sure you’re out of the way of other riders coming down behind you before you lay your bike down, and then be prepared for the other women who went ahead of you to swarm you with congratulations and smiles and cheers!

EXTINCTION IMMINENT

Am I a dinosaur? I wondered about that on the way home from a bike ride last evening. Nine years ago when I first started biking, I was not too concerned about the fact that I was slower and less aggressive than the other people who rode. After all, I was just a beginner, and still getting the hang of simply the basics. Now, however, it has been nearly nine years since I first stepped across a bicycle, and I am still the person who gets dropped on the group rides, the one who hastily dismounts and walks when confronted with a mammoth log stack or a treacherous looking section of trail. I do not use terms like “gnarly”, “going big”, or “stoked”. I am not concerned about how high I can jump my bike, or even if I can jump my bike. I rarely spend a lot of time attempting repeatedly to ride a sketchy obstacle. I tried racing for several years, but finally discovered that I was the only one who was merely “recreationally racing” rather than being seriously competitive. I never really thought much about my lackadaisical approach to cycling until I began to try riding with other bikers. Suddenly I realized that I did not exactly “fit in” with the mountain biker image. I do not have the same aggression and hardcore approach to riding that real bikers seem to have. Granted, I do go out and ride my bike all year long, even in the coldest depths of winter and the baking heat of summer. But my progression in both speed and technical abilities has been minimal at best, and I am unable to keep up with the progression of the sport itself. Every time I learn a tiny new skill, the sport has already left me behind and “gone bigger”, so that my learning curve seems to have become virtually a straight line, or more realistically, a “flatline”. Thus, the impetus to try new things and advance in my riding is rapidly deteriorating because I never seem to catch up to others in the sport or the sport itself. I love to ride my bicycles, but is it a lost cause to simply ride, with no pressure to do more, or be more, than I am?

So again I have to ask the question, am I a dinosaur? And are there any other dinosaurs out there besides me?

DROPPED

We went on our routine weekly evening ride tonight - as always, about 15 or so very fast men and me. Again, as always, we entered the trail together, but before 50 yards had elapsed, I was completely alone. I wasn't worried about it, though. I know this trail well. In fact, getting dropped (again) this evening gave me opportunities I never would have had by struggling to keep up with the guys.

For example, getting dropped allowed me to slow way down when the sweet aroma of honeysuckle wafted up my nose. Gave me the chance to really pay attention to the way my bike danced through the rock gardens, floated over wet tangles of roots. Allowed me to settle into my own personal rhythm, one with my bike, as I flew down hills, and then rode purposefully back up the climbs. I listened to the sound of my own breathing, my heart beating, felt my muscles working, and marveled at the capabilities of the human body. Getting dropped enabled me to play chase with a muskrat who taunted me from the side of the trail, then darted out in front. I stood up and gave chase briefly before he ducked back into the shrubs; I smiled as I passed, while a squirrel chattered excitedly from an overhanging branch. I paid attention to and cherished everything about riding - the smell of the dirt, the rustling leaves, the creaking of the trees in the wind. I was no longer just riding - I was living, and it was glorious, painful, thrilling, overwhelming.

I realized tonight that the racing, the competition, the trying to keep up with the fast folks, none of that really matters. What matters, to me anyway, is that I am privileged to be able to ride, maybe not skillfully, maybe not fast, but I can ride, and that is what gives life to my soul.

So why do YOU ride?

NOT JUST COMPETITION

When most folks hear the word "race", the first thing that comes to mind is cutthroat competition, and the concept that it's all about winning. Well, the other weekend at the NORBA (National Off-Road Mountain Bike Association) Nationals at Snowshoe, West Virginia, the true concept of what downhill racing means to me became very, very clear. And surprisingly enough, it honestly had nothing to do with winning, or even competing really. I had entered the Expert Women Downhill category for women age 40-44, for my first time racing as an Expert. As is the procedure, I began the week with some practice runs. On the first one, I was accompanied by Shaums March, a pro racer from the west coast who holds clinics at many National events. I had signed up for his Snowshoe clinic in an effort to work on my crippling issues with lack of confidence and extreme fear of trail obstacles (a death-knoll when trying to successfully compete at downhill racing). As it turned out, I was the sole participant in the clinic, so had a full 3.5 hours of his time all to myself. After working on basic skills such as cornering, braking, bike handling, etc., up in the parking lot area, we proceeded to the downhill course, where he alternately led and followed, as I fumbled my way down the trail, with him encouraging and advising me of the best lines to follow. At many points, I became frozen with fear at the steepness, massive rocks and excessively slick mud coating the trail. Luckily, Shaums is very patient, and when I would stand at a section of trail, too paralyzed with fear to move, he would calmly hold my bike for me, while gently urging me to just "jump on your bike and roll". At one point, I was so frightened on a very steep, off-camber turn that I simply could not will myself to ride. He incredibly walked up behind me, held onto the back of my bike shorts while I got on the bike, then proceeded to run down the trail behind me while I rode, all the while still holding onto my shorts so as not to let me fall. Needless to say, the 2.5 mile course took us nearly an hour and a half to ride, but with his encouragement, I was able to ride sections that I had never before even dared to consider a rideable option, with multiple small layover crashes, but only one real, flipping over the bars, landing flat on the ground superman style, then into a tree, but "yeah, I'm okay, thank goodness for body armor" wreck.

The next day was a slightly different story. This time, during my practice session, I had gotten perhaps halfway down the course when the skies opened up and a thunderstorm burst onto the scene. Soaked by the chilling rain, I somehow managed to slip and slide my way down the mountain. However, due to the lightning, the ski lifts were stopped and we had to wait for the shuttle bus. When it finally arrived, the dozen or more of us stuck at the bottom of the slope crammed our mud-encrusted armor-clad bodies into the bus, with our bikes on the trailer behind, and we started back up the mountain. Unfortunately, barely half a mile up the road, the bus driver suddenly let out a scream/curse and the bus screeched to a halt. Apparently the water heater had burst and sprayed the front interior of the bus with hot antifreeze, luckily with no injuries to either the driver or the passengers. It was at this point that I realized there was another woman on the bus, and since only one course is open for practice at any given time, there was a good chance that she might be in my class! As it turns out, she was. Throughout this day, I learned that there were several women in the Beginner, Sport, and older Expert (over 40 women, and we race on the Sport course) classes. I met and talked with several of them, and we shared our fears and concerns over such a steep, muddy, rocky course.

By the time race day arrived, I was a nervous wreck, fearful of the course, the competition, the other women, etc. But as my start time drew near, I learned what it is that truly drives me to go to the races. It isn't winning, obviously, since I haven't had that privilege very many times during my race "career". But there is a camaraderie amongst the downhill racers that is akin to that of a family. While we waited for our turns to go, both the other women in my class and I chatted like old friends, even though we had only recently met, and although we certainly each would have liked to win, the "good luck" that we wished each other was genuine. Both Theresa and Shari were sent on their runs, and finally it was my turn. As I waited anxiously in the start house for the beeps to begin, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a soft female voice reminding me to "just breathe and relax - you're gonna be fine". It was yet another downhiller, Kim, a younger Expert friend of mine. And I thought to myself, where else can you find this kind of support and encouragement? Here was someone who had just finished her own race run and was exhausted, and yet she took the time to come find me and provide that last minute support that meant so much to me. And even as I rode down the course, I heard yet another feminine voice yelling out encouraging words - this time it was my teammate, Leigh, who races pro, and as it turns out she was videotaping me and had walked all the way through the course to a section where she knew I felt confident and strong, so as to make a good video for me.

But the best reminder of why I race came after I crossed the finish line. Yes, I was the slowest woman on my course at 16 minutes, but you would have thought I was Lance Armstrong winning the Tour, the way the women all ran up to congratulate me on getting through it, with hugs and cheers. And this happened for every single woman who crossed the line. There is some kind of bonding that occurs when you race downhill; you've all done much more than you thought you could. You have survived something scary, you've reached deep down inside and faced your fears; and you've all shared the experience somehow. Downhill racing isn't just about who is faster - the medals are an aside. It's a shared experience, a camaraderie, a bond that makes you a family.

HUG A BEGINNER

While we all had to start somewhere, I think that along the way, many of us who mountain bike have forgotten what it was like to be a beginner. Remember when a fallen branch across the trail the size of a #2 pencil caused that huge lump in your throat? Or when tiny smooth creek crossings and pebble-sized rock gardens looked like the jaws of death? On the other hand, remember when riding was all about just getting outside and feeling like a kid again, with no worries about whether or not you were keeping your heart rate pegged or who could drop everyone else on the ride?

Maybe it's just because, having started riding so late in life, my memories of those very first timid rides are still vividly fresh, but I love riding with beginners. I love still BEING a beginner, even after nearly 8 years. There is nothing so rewarding as taking someone out on their very first mountain bike ride, watching them transform from a hesitant, wobbly first-timer to that exhilarated, reborn child with a smile that encompasses three time zones as they emerge victorious from the trail, riding confidently over that fallen branch. Their excitement is so contagious. If you haven't done so, I urge you to go on a ride with a newbie. Let them lead. Ride at their pace, and look at the trail through their eyes. Let yourself become a beginner once more, and fall in love with mountain biking all over again.

CUT YOUR LOSSES

“Cut your losses.” It’s a saying we use when we have already invested too much into a losing venture, and decide to quit before losing more. This phrase came to me on an organized mountain bike ride the other day, as I once again fell off the back of the “slower intermediate” group. I started to think I had already invested far too much (9 years to be exact) into an activity that was not, and apparently was not ever going to be, my forte.

But what I couldn’t quite figure out was why, after 9 years of stagnating at generally the beginner skill level, I was still out there trying. Years ago when I tried my hand at windsurfing, it only took a few failed attempts before I realized that wasn’t my “thing”. Same thing with several other activities – it didn’t take long to realize I wasn’t a runner, a skier, or a swimmer. I’ve generally not ever really been the athletic type, most often preferring the solitude of reading, writing, meditation, dance, etc.

So why was I here, floundering on this beginner level trail, while others who had been riding a fraction of the years I had were flying effortlessly past me as I struggled helplessly on the unforgiving roots and tight turns? Why have I found it so difficult to abandon attempts at this sport like I have so many others? What makes mountain biking different?

I pondered this as I dismounted time and time again when I was unable to maintain control of my bike along the twisty, narrow trail. Perhaps it was because I had already invested so many years in the sport? No, that couldn’t be it. I gave up horseback riding after over 30 years, and I was far better at horsemanship than I am at bike handling.

Suddenly my mind flashed back to something a fellow competitor had told me at a 24 hour race a couple of years ago. As he watched me ride past his campsite at around 5:30 in the morning when the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon, the expression on my face was one of pure joy, as if this was more of a “religious experience” than a race. He said that I appeared to be completely absorbed in the moment, seemingly unaware of any pain or exhaustion that I must have felt at that time, after riding straight for nearly 17 hours.

Then it occurred to me that most of the darkest, loneliest times I’ve experienced on my bike have actually been when I was riding in groups. I realized that I am not fast or technically skilled, and at 42 years old, in all likelihood never will be. I don’t really have much interest in seeing how many trail obstacles I can conquer, or how fast I can ride.

Truthfully I don’t fit the mold of the average mountain biker at all. I’ve never been much of a risk taker, and don’t have a very strong competitive drive. While mountain biking seems to be a social outlet for many riders, for me it is more a means of facilitating “moving meditation”, whereby I can step outside myself and delve more deeply into my inner self at the same time. When I ride alone, I’m not the slow rider, or the scared rider, or the rider who gets dropped. On solitary rides, I am the fast rider, the bold rider, and the rider leading the pack.

However, even all that does not totally explain the siren’s call this sport has for me. Generally people are drawn to activities where they excel. Yet here I am, still struggling, still falling off the back of group rides, still afraid to try technical trail sections or obstacles, and despite all this, I continue to head out to the trail with my bike. Why? I honestly don’t know. Perhaps I’ll go for a solo ride and think it over…

THE LITTLE THINGS

Okay, so I set out to start the 2004 bike season by competing solo at the 2nd Annual Monkey Chucker 24 hour race near Greenville. The weather looked good to start – even though they were forecasting thunderstorms Saturday afternoon – and I did my warmup stretches, got well hydrated, dressed, and ready to go. During this time, I had the pleasure of meeting another solo competitor – a young man named Wes who was friends with a long time competitor and friend of mine, Matt. Wes had run support for Matt at this event last year, and had decided to try his hand at solo racing this time around. He and I chatted for a while, and discovered that we both had the same race goal this time – to complete 12 laps, so we wished each other well, and prepared for the start.

The first two laps went off as usual – in other words, with me at the back of the field, just cruising along at my normal grandma slow speed. Being the only woman in a field of 14 solo entries, I wasn’t too terribly concerned about being behind. I figured I would just do my best, and even though I doubted I could ride faster than any of the men, I hoped I could perhaps outlast some of them. By my third lap in the mid afternoon, the sky really seemed to be getting dark. I thought I heard a clap of thunder, then one solitary raindrop kissed my cheek. The next thing I knew, I was being pelted by windswept rain which immediately drenched me, all the way from my snow leopard helmet cover down to my waterproof cycling boots – which I had fortunately changed into after my first lap because they were so much more comfortable than the shoes I had started out in. I still had about three more miles to go on this nine plus mile lap when the thunderstorm started, so by the time I passed the timer’s tent I must have looked like a drowned rat. Danny, the timer, informed me that they had decided to call the race for an hour to let the lightning and thunder pass, so I headed off to the trailer to change into dry clothes and rest a bit. This race was different for me, because this time my husband, Steve, who normally does support for me, was also racing solo. This meant that I would basically be on my own, to do my own support – and I have to admit that that definitely makes things more difficult.

During this rain delay, lunch provided by the very generous trail landowner, showed up. This was voraciously devoured by the racers, including myself, and was a welcome change from the variety of gels and sports drinks I had been sustaining myself on throughout the afternoon.

So anyway, after the hour wait, the skies again cleared and the race resumed. On my fourth lap, I was greeted by a very different trail than the one I had become used to. The normally quick drying, never slippery roots were now rather glassy and unfamiliar as it continued to drizzle on and off so that they continued to stay wet, and the damp sand was clinging tenaciously to every part of my drivetrain. I struggled through the trail, but found that I was slowing down even more than my usual snail’s pace, and began to get a little worried. However, after arriving back at my pit area and changing again into clean dry clothes – which I continued to do after every lap – and grabbing a bite to eat, I headed back out to tackle the slippery roots and logs.

Dusk was falling when I again returned to my pit area, so I quickly attached my lights to my bike and helmet. Normally at home, since I have very poor night vision, I run two lights on high when I ride. This time, however, since Steve would be using his extra lights, and I would have to allow time to recharge my own, I was reduced to using one light at a time, on low. This greatly hampered my ability to navigate the increasingly slippery roots as night fell and dew began to cover the ground.

Also, as evening fell, I felt a sharp stabbing pain in my low to mid back which nearly prevented me from moving my spine at all. Luckily, Wes had an extra hot pack which he very kindly gave me to wear on my back. This is probably what enabled me to even finish the race at all. I was still in a great deal of pain, but the moist heat from the pad soothed the muscle spasms enough for me to at least sit on the bike.

By midnight, I was getting quite frustrated with my inability to see, the pain and numbness in my hands, the back spasms, and the slipperiness of the trail, and had gotten very discouraged at having to walk so much of a course that I can usually ride easily. Steve and Wes accompanied me on a late night lap, but I felt even worse by the fact that they had to wait so much for me while I walked sections that in the daytime I could ride with no trouble at all. I was feeling like everyone was passing me a million times on the same lap!

At this point, Steve apparently got his second wind, and the final devastating blow to me came when I was agonizingly preparing to go out for another wee-hours lap and he came bee-bopping in, excitedly chattering about how great he felt. This is the last thing you want to hear when you are suffering in hell. Even though I love him dearly and he is my soulmate, I could have ripped his throat open at that point….

But, I dragged my weary self out to my bike again and went out once more. On this lap, despite feeling worse than I ever imagined I could and still ride, one of those little things that makes all the difference happened. As I was struggling along the back section of the trail, Carol came up behind me, and told me that she had a new respect for me, as she had only done half as many laps as I had at that point, and was “just dead”. That little compliment, which she probably doesn’t even remember now, breathed new life into me, and I perked up and scurried on down the trail. On arriving back at the pit area at around 3 a.m., I decided to take a break until 4:30 in order to ensure that my next lap would be the “dawn lap” – the lap of rejuvenation and rebirth. It was so wonderful to be out on the trail and see the sun rise – that instant of clicking off the night light has to be the most definitive, authoritative, I CAN DO THIS moment of the entire race.

I continued to ride, taking short breaks as needed to try and rest my hands and back, until roughly 9 a.m. At this point, Wes and I talked about how we sadly realized we probably were not going to achieve our 12 lap goal. He had crashed badly during the night and injured his back as well. We decided at this point to go back out at around 10:30, and just get 1 more lap, which would put us each at 10 laps. Now granted, I seriously doubt I could have forced myself to get back out and do an extra lap, which would have put me ahead of him with 11. But even if I could have – which I doubt I could – I felt it would break a code of honor between us. After all, it was Wes who had enabled me to finish the race at all by giving me the heating pad for my back. So I held true to my word, as did he, and we both headed back out on the trail at 10:30 to finish 1 more lap, each completing 10, with him several minutes in front of me.

All told, I believe I wound up in 10th place overall for the solos. But a big surprise came during the awards ceremony when I was awarded a huge trophy for being the first place solo female (a bittersweet victory since I was also the only solo female). All along, I had been told that no separation would be made based on gender. However, Andrew and Danny, the race promoters, told me later that they felt it was only appropriate to recognize the top female solo, and that they had planned to give this trophy all along, but wanted it to be a surprise – which it definitely was!

But the biggest surprise to me was how it was the little things that kept me going – Wes giving me a heating pad, Carol’s compliment, every rider who passed me and said “good job” or “keep it up”, and the folks in the timing tent with their smiling faces and encouraging words all night long – those things really made the difference for me, and reminded me to never discount or take for granted the smallest things, because no generous act or kind word is ever wasted.

LEMONS TO LEMONADE

There's an old adage that goes something like "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade". I never really thought about the "lemons" as being plain old words. However, for better or worse, we live in the information age, filled oftentimes with mindless chit-chat, and I think sometimes we forget how available our words are to the entire world, and how much power those words can wield. A few years ago, I never would have imagined how deeply simple words can affect the heart and soul of someone, and how much they can change a life - for better or for worse, and sometimes both.

When I was first starting out riding, there was a lovely and talented young lady here locally who rode with me nearly every day after work. She was always the one who called me to ride and we always seemed to have a great time together - or so I thought - so I assumed she truly wanted to ride with me, even though I was slower and less bold than her. Well, anyway, one day when she had called me and left a message on my answering machine about riding, apparently when she hung up the phone, it did not disconnect, so her conversation with another biking friend of hers wound up accidentally getting recorded. Turns out they began discussing how slow I was and how it was just "torture" to ride with me, and how they had never seen anyone so slow and unskilled as a rider, etc. Well, needless to say, it crushed me. I did speak with her about it right away; she desperately tried to make excuses, and I truly believe it was not her intention to hurt me, but sadly the damage was done - the words were out and there was no taking them back. Having already been rather concerned about being a very timid and slow beginner at a somewhat older age (mid 30s when I started riding), I was totally devastated to hear this from someone I had considered my friend and riding buddy. So, I stopped riding with her; in fact, I stopped riding with anyone. For a solid two years, I rode solo every single time I went out - which was nearly every day, as I was desperate to prove her wrong and to learn to ride well. Then finally I got comfortable enough to ride with hubby. Basically he has been my only real riding partner since then, and of course, has consistently told me that I belittle myself regarding my riding and that "you're better than you think you are". He encouraged and worked with me, even going so far as to provide support for me while I competed as a solo rider at multiple 24 hour events - I was too afraid to compete on a team, fearing that I would be the slow member who would hold the team back; and he even convinced me to try downhill racing. I wasn't terribly successful at that - almost always placing last - but did begin to discover that frequently my bikes would compensate for some of my limitations as a rider.

Despite all of this, I still continued to feel inferior as a cyclist, always being hesitant to join in any group rides, and even fearful of attending clinics because I didn't want to hold anyone else back. And the funny thing is, I never even realized how poorly I viewed myself as a rider until I ran into this same woman not too long ago at a restaurant. We're still friendly to one another, and we chatted briefly about cycling - and suddenly I realized how I minimized my abilities and every single biking accomplishment I have ever achieved during our conversation, and it dawned on me where that seed of self-discouragement had initially begun to grow in me those few years back.

Now I'm not blaming her for my lack of confidence (goodness knows, growing up in a family in the 1960s who firmly believed that women simply should not "do sports" contributed greatly to that); and although I do think that incident set in motion a pattern of negative self-talk that did perhaps hinder my progression as a biker somewhat, in all reality, I believe I owe this woman a word of thanks. Had it not been for overhearing that conversation, I never would have realized how deeply words can affect someone. That, in turn, might not have led to me discovering one of the greatest joys I have experienced in my cycling life, which is teaching beginners how to ride. I believe the despair and hurt that I felt those years ago sparked a desire in me to learn, to rise above that discouraging conversation, and most importantly, to be more aware of my own words and actions around others. Had I not felt the need to prove to myself that she was wrong about me, I may never have tried an endurance race, or a downhill race, or taken beginners out for their first rides - all things that have given me more joy than I could ever have hoped for. I'm grateful that something in my soul "connected" with cycling in such depth as to keep me from giving up on it, and made me keep trying and hanging with it, squeezing the "lemons" I heard on my answering machine those years ago into the sweet "lemonade" that my biking has become of late.

JUST DO IT

"How on earth do you do that? Do you just ride straight through for the whole time or what?" Those are questions I get a lot when I tell folks that I compete in 12 and 24 hour endurance mountain bike races. In fact, I was just asked that very thing regarding the Charlotte Jaycees Cowbell 12 Hour Challenge I raced this past Saturday. So, I figured I would answer it in this month's article. Now granted, racing a 12 hour event is a bit different from a 24 hour one, but since the 12 hour is what I just did, I'll focus on that for this particular essay.

I arrived in Charlotte Friday night, and Steve and I set up our tent and pit area (we normally take the travel trailer for the 24 hour events, but for these shorter races, where sleep is not an issue for the support person, the tent is fine). The alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, and while Steve went about ensuring my bikes (I always bring a backup, just in case) were ready, I took advantage of the early rising to stretch gently and have a light breakfast of yogurt and water. After chatting with some of the other racers for a bit, I then went ahead and got dressed for the racers' meeting. Shortly thereafter, the race began, and we were off! As I was not familiar with the Catawba trail, having never ridden it before, I took my time and just followed the rest of the racers into the singletrack, but making sure to keep the other solo woman in my sights as much as possible. She eventually got on far enough ahead where I lost sight of her, and I had to settle for simply getting myself through the more technical sections of trail. Sometimes it gets intimidating and worrisome to be behind, even by a few minutes, but after completing 6 solo 24 hour events and with this being my 7th solo 12 hour event, I have learned what my "comfort pace" is (the pace that I know I can sustain all day and all night), and decided to just be content to ride that speed Apparently I've developed a pretty good feel for that pace, as I was told that all my laps were within just a couple of minutes of each other in time. After each lap, I rode over to my pit area, where I had my hydration pack refilled with cold water, and took in either a gel or an energy drink, but made sure not to stop for more than 5-10 minutes, at which time I promptly hit the singletrack again. After my fourth or fifth lap, decided it was time for lunch, which consisted of another yogurt and one-quarter of a sourdough roll, along with half a can of caffeine free soda, and still more gel and another energy drink. This was my longest break at perhaps 15 minutes or so. I managed to do okay like this until near the end of my 8th lap, when I developed intense cramps in both knees, requiring me to actually stop on the trail to gently stretch my legs. Unfortunately, the cramps also reduced me to having to walk a couple of the steeper climbs, as any forceful pedal strokes would intensify the pain and cause excruciating muscle contractions. However, stopping was simply not an option for me, since the other solo woman and I were turning almost identical lap times, and up to this point we had not been more than 14 minutes apart. Besides this, though, I had my heart and mind set on completing 11 laps - 11 is my favorite lucky number, being the number of laps I got at Conyers, Georgia last year at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin when I qualified for the World Solo Championships - which meant that I would need to keep going in order to get in the remaining 3 laps I needed to meet my goal.

As it turned out, apparently I was not the only racer combating muscle cramps and heat-induced fatigue. I ended up riding a lap with one of the solo men who was suffering the same fate, and discovered later on that the other solo woman had basically had to stop for a break that was long enough for me to complete an entire lap before she was able to ride again, thus putting me in the lead for the first time in this race on completion of my 9th lap. Still determined to meet my 11 lap goal, though, I continued to press on, continuing to never stop for more than 5-10 minutes between laps. My competitor did continue to press me, turning out two consecutive laps at the finish of the race, but fortunately I managed to cross the line mere minutes ahead of her (I don't even think she was 30 minutes behind me), thanks to Steve's gentle urging to "just keep moving" throughout the day, for my first ever real win at an endurance race (barring the ones where I was the only solo woman). And I have to tell you, after so many tries, only to fall just short of the top spot on the podium, all of a sudden, learning that I had done it, that I had actually won, made the pain in my knees, the stiff neck, the red clay mud clinging to my body and clothes, the briar cuts on my arms, the soreness in my hands, all of it, so worthwhile. And it had nothing to do really with the prizes or the trophy - it was like all my failed attempts to claim victory finally meant something more than just having tried. It was success; finally, sweet, undeniable success where I had never been able to quite grasp it before. And I'm going to enjoy it while I have it. After all, next weekend is another race, and anything is possible - which goes not only for me, but for my competition as well!

SOMETIMES FEAR WINS

Someone once told me that everyone who races downhill gets scared, and I believe that is probably true. However, sometimes there comes a point when fear overtakes desire, and confidence is crippled, paralyzed, beaten down and left at the start gate. That unfortunately is where I have now arrived. For the past several years, downhill racing has defined who I am; it has been my passion, fellow competitors my “family”.

Racing filled the tremendous void left in my soul when I lost my horse to a broken leg 8 years ago, thus separating me from the only life I had known for 35 years – that of the horse-show world. And now, my heart is breaking once again, as I find that I can no longer manage the terror that rises up in me when the beeps start at the top of the course, or force myself to let my bike carry me over the rocks and ruts that make up the trail snaking its way down the side of the mountain. I can no longer hold back the tears when I realize that I am afraid, and timidly walking sections of trail that just a couple of years ago I easily rode, or would at least attempt. Suddenly, I feel the weight of my ever advancing age when I notice how much more I have in common with the parents on the sidelines cheering on their daughters who are competing with me in the races, and I can no longer find the joy.

The excitement has been replaced with embarrassment – I am ashamed of my overwhelming fear despite layers of body armor and long travel bikes, ashamed of my inability to conquer that fear and convert it into the adrenaline needed to tackle the courses. I am defeated because I do not understand what is happening or how to correct it. I want desperately to be able to ride well, and I have tried everything I can think of – clinics, private coaching sessions; I take my bike out all the time and try to just enjoy riding, yet the skills continue to elude me. Rather than improving, I find that I am regressing, becoming more and more hesitant as a rider. Worse, the memories of losing so much of my social connection and lifestyle upon the loss of my horse alarms me with respect to the prospect of losing my downhill racing “family” now that I can no longer participate, and may be relegated to the outsider-looking-in status. At this point, I can only console myself in the hopes that during my time as a downhiller maybe I was able to inspire at least one person to stretch their limits and attempt things they never thought possible, and hopefully to achieve those things. If that is true, then perhaps I will not have failed, no matter where this life’s journey may next lead me.

NAKED BEFORE THE MIRROR

I'll never forget my high school English teacher. Her name was Mrs. Revelle, and I used to hate her for the way she never cut me any slack, always pressing me for perfection with every assignment. Funny how things look differently now that I am an adult. That hatred has been replaced with gratitude for making me work so hard, to realize my potential and use it. I thought about her tonight while I was riding the singlespeed. Curious how similar that bike and Mrs. Revelle are. Each time I ride the singlespeed, with every hill, I curse the lack of gears, forcing myself to stand and strain with every muscle in my body just to reach the crest, always pushing myself for more than I think I can give. And yet, despite the pain, I know with each agonizing pedal stroke, I'm gaining strength, learning to anticipate the trail ahead and carry my momentum; in essence, learning to ride all over again, to become one with my bike. The singlespeed is my best friend and my worst enemy. It liberates me from the drudgery of gears, trying to correctly anticipate a shift, the worries of a drivetrain. There is no chain skip, no mis-shifting, and a beautifully uncluttered bar and frame. But it also strips me totally naked and holds me up before the mirror, exposing my every weakness as a rider, subtly reminding me that despite years of riding, I still have so much to learn. The singlespeed is a tough and demanding teacher, accepting nothing less than my absolute best, lest I have to dismount and humbly walk a hill that I could easily ride with a granny gear. It makes no allowances for weakness, no coddling when I'm tired, and tolerates no whining, whimpering or complaining. After all, it was my choice to go the singlespeed route. Yet, I'm drawn to it like a moth to the flame. When I ride the singlespeed, I am consumed. Riding it requires everything of me - I have no time or energy to worry about my job, responsibilities, the mess we humans have put our planet in, or even whether or not I'm being dropped on the ride. It envelops me, smothers me, drowns me, while at the same time frees me, inspires me, and revives me. It is my hell and my heaven. I can't escape it's siren's call, and I don't want to. When I ride the singlespeed, we are indeed one.

A LIFETIME IN A SINGLE DAY

If you have ever considered the solo category while looking at a 24 hour mountain bike race brochure and thought to yourself, “That looks like fun! But could I do it?” then you have already answered your own question, at least from the mental preparation standpoint. The type of person who considers the “fun” aspect of solo 24 hour racing is already more than halfway to fully appreciating the emotional experience.

As there are already multitudes of training manuals, articles, and even books currently available explaining the mechanics and tactics of physical training for such an event, this article will focus on what I consider an equally important aspect of solo endurance racing - the mental and emotional rollercoaster associated with it. I will leave the physical training plans and programs to coaches and trainers who are much more qualified to handle them, and instead simply give you a bird’s eye view, as it were, of what 24 hour solo racing is like from the mind of a Jane Average Athlete.

I think to fully appreciate solo endurance racing, one must be prepared mentally as well as physically, not only for the challenges associated with it, but also for the sheer joy and enhanced sense of awe at your own capabilities that such an accomplishment brings. Success at solo endurance racing is so much more than simply winning first place. In fact, at my third solo 24 hour race (I have now done 6, with more on the schedule), at the 24 Hours of Snowshoe in West Virginia, I had the tremendous honor of meeting the father of solo endurance bike racing himself, Mr. John Stamstad. He told me that he felt sad for racers who would be satisfied with nothing less than first place. His opinion was that by considering anything less than first place in an endurance event as defeat was to terribly limit your capacity for joy. After all, success is relative, and generally there can only be one first place winner in a category. True, it is commendable to strive for first and we all ultimately do, but you have to remember that a solo 24 hour bike race is an incredible challenge which is an invaluable learning experience and achievement, even just to finish, and you should never diminish that accomplishment simply because someone else happened to have a better day than you at this particular time.

Having also competed in regular cross-country and downhill bike races as well, I can tell you that I have found nothing in the bike racing world that compares with the range of emotions and life experiences of endurance events. I will always remember my first one especially, because even though I jumped into it totally unprepared (other than having completed several 12 hour events, which are quite different) I still found it be a profound experience in far more avenues than just cycling.

I have always been a big television fanatic, and the Ironman Triathlon documentaries amazed me. I could never figure out why those folks who were far behind the elite athletes and came in very close to (and usually including) last place almost always crossed the finish line in joyous tears, collapsing in overwhelming joy and even ecstasy as they crossed the line. I mean, they didn’t win anything, right? However, as I crossed the finish line at my first 24 hour solo race (in last place) I discovered that I, too, was in tears (and NOT from sorrow), and I also collapsed to my knees. In fact, I had to be helped to my campsite by my husband and support crew because I was so overcome with the magnitude of what I had just accomplished that I could not even walk. It was a most profound moment in my life, particularly as someone who had never been a very athletic or competitive person, to realize the restrictive boundaries I had crossed. So many preconceived notions about my abilities had been dispelled in a mere 24 hours.

For anyone considering doing a 24 hour bike race solo, I urge you to value it for all it can bring you, and not consider it just another bike race. It is an experience like no other, and can have a profound impact on your total life, if you let it. I would hope that you would relish every single moment of the event, such as the excitement of the race start, the sunshine in the afternoon, or the cool water droplets on your face should it happen to rain during your event. Take the time to notice the vibrant colors of the sky as the sun drops below the horizon. Listen to the incredible sounds of life exhibited by night creatures when the bulk of humanity is sleeping. Feel the deep darkness, and let the despair of midnight envelop you, knowing that the sun will rise again. Note the ever present spectators who line the course in the depths of night (just for you), and appreciate and thank them for their presence and the cheery light of encouragement they provide to help you through the darkness. Riding a 24 hour race solo gives you an unmatched opportunity to suffer through the chilling depths of night, to be rewarded by warm rejuvenation when the sun once again stretches its brilliant fingers out across the sky to breathe new life into you. The birds once again begin to sing, dewdrops reflect rainbows of color all across the trail, and somehow your feet and back do not seem to hurt as much as they did just a few short hours ago.

Take this opportunity to unlock your inner child and be amazed - at yourself. Consider the strength of your muscles, the capacity of your mind, the wondrous being that you are to have taken this one day and really LIVED, to have stretched your limits and overcome every mental obstacle and to have every negative voice that said you can’t, replying with “yes, I can”. This is not just riding, not just racing; this is truly living, my friend. On this leg of life’s journey, you meet many other solo riders. They become like family to you, as you will have shared something so wonderful, so terribly painful, so powerful and overwhelming that only they can truly understand. Treasure these friendships, as these are people who will laugh with you, cry with you, encourage you when you are afraid, and celebrate your success.

But also be prepared for the misery, the pain, and the solitude that accompanies solo endurance racing. Bask in these things, truly and deeply experience them, knowing that they, like all of life, are temporary. Yes, your feet, back and neck will hurt. Your hands will develop blisters and become sore. You will have periods of feeling totally defeated, but you will survive, and you will be the stronger for having persevered. By allowing yourself to be enveloped by these seemingly negative aspects of endurance racing, you will be opening yourself up to more fully experiencing the joy. You will encounter the full range of human emotion during these 24 hours. There will be times you will want to cry, scream, laugh, or sing; so go ahead and cry, scream, laugh, and sing. I can promise you that you will not be the only one.

Remember, you do not HAVE to ride your bike for 24 hours; you GET to ride your bike for 24 hours. It is a privilege, not a chore. It is the chance to live an entire lifetime in a single day. What an incredible and amazing thing! And when the race is over, relive and relish the experience as often as you like. But do try not to get caught up in whether you won or lost. In a solo 24 hour race, there are no losers. In the immortal words of Manuel Diotte, “Winning is not always finishing first. Sometimes winning is simply finishing.”