WEMS Race Update - by Joe King
I started lap 5 and really wanted to quit. Last year I managed 4 laps of this 6 lap, 63 mile mountain bike race. This year I arrived determined to do go the distance. My first clue things might be different than I expect was when, after practicing my Le Mans start, we were informed there would be no Le Mans start. What kept me from doing the distance last year was going too hard at the start. My Le Mans start last year was good enough to put me behind everyone and I spent energy passing people on the double track. Opting for a front-row starting position this year carries with it the risk I'll attempt to keep pace with the over exuberant and burn out again. If I could keep my head, I'll naturally fall back into a good group without spending energy to pass anyone. If you know me, you might guess I was kidding myself.
Shockingly this plan seemed to work fine and there were three of us who rode together for most of the race. Unfortunately, I was doing most of the work. This did not go unnoticed but I felt good riding my own pace which was instantly increased when either Sara or Bill took to the front. The subtle course markings sent me sliding to the ground when the course suddenly turned sharply to the right and I didn't. The three of us rejoined shortly thereafter and I used my poor sense of direction as an excuse to stay off the front. This worked for a few miles anyway. I couldn't help notice how smooth they were. Bill never looked in difficulty riding his fully-rigid single speed. The course had logs to hop, bumps and of course stumps. There were some short climbs with some steepness. Overall it was about 80% flowing single track. Sara would effortlessly glide through sections that had me reaching for the brake. It was good to be with folks who would raise my game.
The course is 10.5 miles and we signed up for the mid-distance race which means 63 miles or 6 laps. The long-distance today is 100 miles. The short distance is 3 laps and these faster more aggressive riders would be joining us on their first lap while we were on our third. There was some yelling and shouting, mostly by Sara when a group of these riders gave us grief for being stopped on the trail. What those riders didn't know is a fellow 3-lapper had just come by so we rolled along just off the trail to allow him to pass. Just as I returned to the trail a stick got caught up on my bike and was trying to find it's way into my spokes. It was brakes full on and as soon as I stopped Sara had the stick tossed into the verge. It was then this group of riders came upon us complaining that they had to roll past just of the trail. I thought it was ironic but Sara got ticked off at them for being so rude, yelling, "this is WEMS not WORS!"
I stocked up with food and a full camelback before leaving my little fueling station on the trailside prior to the start of the race. Sara and Bill would stop each lap and I'd roll on gentling, eating waffles and gu. At the end of lap 4 I stopped to replenish my food and take on some plain water. It was at this moment last year I decided to quit and I was feeling the miles deep in my bones. Sara tapped me on the shoulder and said just two more and headed out. I wouldn't see her again. A bit later Bill would come by as I was biking along but he rolled past with barely a word. This is lap 5. With every pedal I'm improving on my first attempt but I'm in pain. My back has been acting up from time to time for the last year and half and now it wants to complain. Riding lap 5 alone my thoughts turn to quitting. It would still be a better result than last year. I know about a third of the starters do less than full mileage so there's no DFL to worry about. I get slower but the pain gets worse. Then I see a mile marker and it says mile 2. I've only completed 2 of the 10.5 miles of lap 5? Strangely enough this makes me smile. This is what I signed up for I think. It is, after all, an endurance event -- so endure! The sign for mile 3 appears and feels likes it's been 20. I smile. When the sign for mile 5 finally appears I feel joy. This section from mile 5 through mile 8 is all rolling single track. With some really fun banked turns and two thick trees so close together my shortened handlebars barely make it through. After mile 8 the biking is easy, mostly double track and less hilly than the earlier sections -- I'm gaining speed.
Lap 5 finally ends and I don't even pause to look at my fueling station which consists of a cooler sitting on a camp chair. I'm rolling to the end of this thing. My back starts to feel better, as it's been known to do when I gut it out for awhile. Lap 6 turns out to be a joy in part due to mechanical failure. Also on lap 5 my chain came off twice. I've got front derailleur cable stretch. Instead of messing with it, I decided to just leave it in the little ring. The spinning returned dividends for the back pain surely but it also seemed to help with my flow. Finally on the 6th time around I'm getting the hang of the stump-littered track and tight turns. Yes -- I smiled the entire last lap. And yes, I've finally completed a full mid-distance WEMS race, finishing 13th out 30 men. Bill finished just one place in front of me while Sara won the women's division but only completed 5 laps. No woman would complete all 6 today and she had the best time of those that completed 5.
The Wisconsin Endurance Mountain-bike Series (WEMS) events are low-key and friendly. The 100-milers all looked determined but knackered, passing through the start/finish area while I munched on a pb&j. A few of us have designs on doing the Leadville 100 and today's 63 mile challenge gives me pause and hope. Could I have biked another 4 laps? Not a chance. Not even close. I collapsed on the line at 63. On the other hand, I've been riding in Colorado for more than two decades so I have a feel for the differences. If we do this thing, I'll have to ride smart which is never a good bet. But that's a day not yet written -- today's adventure was a complete success.