When I scoped out my spring race schedule, I was quite surprised to see that the Ragnarok 105 fit perfectly with my rough Alexander training plan, at least on paper… With 105 miles + with >8000 ft elevation, it would be excellent prep. I’ve been ramping up hours in the saddle over the last 3+ weeks, and this event was the last long ride scheduled before a down week, and then a few more weeks of volume build before the Alexander 380.
I went out for a sluggish 3.5 hour ride on Wednesday, and I blamed my lethargy on the sleet, rain, and “heavy” commuter I decided to ride. I forced myself out the door and into the precipitation while telling myself I only had to bike away from home for 30 minutes, and then I could return. 30 minutes turned into an hour, and then I found myself at the start of some of my favorite paved trails. Hours later I returned home exhausted but happy with my effort.
As Ragnarok approached I was debating — should I race it, or just ride it? Last year I fought hard and was second female, and I wanted a similar result this year. Against my better judgment, I decided I would race the dang thing in the final hours before.
I was nervous as all hell the morning of. I still haven’t figured out how to calm my nerves before races, as I get sick to my stomach and can’t get in enough calories prior. I did better than I start most races, lining up near the front with the goal of staying with the lead pack for a while. The neutral roll out felt surprisingly aggressive but I put my head down and hammered on. We came to the first climb shortly after the start, and of course the field began to break up. I lagged and watched others amble past; I was jealous of their seemly low exertion levels compared to mine. My legs were burning, lungs searing, and my boyfriend kept looking back at me expectantly, wondering why I wasn’t solidly on his wheel. I would lag, then surge and hold on for a bit, only to blow up again and fall off. I knew at least one woman was in front of me now, maybe more.
Somewhere near the 20 mile mark I started leapfrogging another woman. She was tiny and climbed well but didn’t descend as recklessly fast as I did. I would bomb down a hill, trying to keep momentum and hold the surge up the next hill. She would pass me on the climb, and the and cycle would repeat itself. She dropped me on a particularly long climb and I didn’t see her again.
My boyfriend kept expressing his frustration with me, saying that he didn’t think I was trying and that I had mentally given up before the race was over. I honestly felt like I was giving all I had that day. Maybe it wasn’t my legs that were limiting, but my head and my body’s self preservation instinct were holding me back. I had slammed out monster miles the week before and I never did shake that sluggish feeling.
We rolled through the aid station around mile 35, not even putting a foot down, grabbing new cue sheets while rolling through. The race organizers did a spectacular job of reinventing what had previously been a chaotic check point. Kudos to them! I’ve been working on riding more self supported lately, so we were able to roll right past the gas station near the checkpoint without me feeling even the slightest hint of panic. I had fuel, feed bags from Bike Bag Dude loaded with snacks, and a Camelbak with plenty of water. I saw quite a few people congregated outside the gas station but thought little of it.
About five miles later we began a minimum maintenance road climb. It was on this climb last year that I caught up to females #1 and #2 in the race and staged my attack, securing my second place finish from that point on. I ascended at a reasonably hard pace this year, churning away, when I heard a male voice behind me say “on your left.” I was already on the right side so I kept pedaling. I felt a hand on my back and it was a friend subtly saying “hi” as we both lurched up the hill. Suddenly, I heard a female voice behind me and looked beside me in surprise as one of the women who I was certain was in front of me rolled past. I thought — this it, this is my chance to attach to this group and perhaps still claim second. All hope is not lost, I attacked here last year and it paid off! It’s “go” time! I mustered all I had and surged on up the hill after the group. They gapped me, but I was determined to turn myself inside out during my chase. Thoughts of “do I have any more to give?” and my mantra of “doing my best” scrolled through my head. I watched as the group slowly created more space between me and them….
Over the next mile or so I was acutely aware that THIS WAS IT. Catch the group now, or forever give up a chance at getting first or second. I continued to summon my best effort and repeatedly fell short. My boyfriend looked back on me with disdain, unable to hold his wheel, and gasping for air. He asked what was wrong, why has I given up? My head was screaming out in pain, I felt like I had certainly not given up considering the amount of effort I was putting forth. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Now the group ahead was out of sight, and I hung my head — I knew the chase was over as I had no more left to give. My boyfriend, frustrated with my lack of ability to pedal my bicycle quickly, told me that he was going to go ahead and attached to their group. I secretly breathed a sigh of relief as he sped away. I finally stopped, straddled my bike, and looked around at the gorgeous scenery and the surrounding river valley, pulling some solid food out of my pack. I enjoyed the candy bar immensely and had just started pedaling again when I saw my boyfriend riding back towards me. He whipped around and reported out “she’s only about 2 minutes ahead of you, want to go get her?” and I replied “no”. I knew in my heart that my race was over.
We pedaled in silence for a while before he asked me if I wanted to talk about what was going on inside my head. I conceded, and told him about the mental shitstorm, the leaden legs, and about how my body was revolting against effort from the get go. I told him I was settling into a slower pace, and that he was free to go on without me. I knew if he attached to a group he’d do less work; however, he never left my side.
As the miles wore on I could feel the fatigue building in my legs, body, and mind. I began scheming ways to abandon ship. We stopped at a turn and I anxiously scanned a map on my phone. I figured out that I could pedal a few more miles of gravel, then descend a paved road into a nearby town. I said I would consider this option but for now we should keep pedaling. We saw a friend in the distance and quickly hopped on our bikes so we could all roll forward together.
We climbed out of the valley and hopped off our bikes. I pulled out my phone and made the “call of shame” — the call you make when you’re searching for someone, practically anyone, to come pick you and your bike up to transport you out of this hell. By this point I had just over 70 miles in and 6000 feet of climbing, I was exhausted and knew I didn’t have any more quality pedaling in me. I had given up the fight. I could definitely finish the distance, but not in any sort of reasonable time that would allow me to pick up my son on time. Luckily for me, my dad was driving up from Iowa to see me cross the finish line. I rerouted him to the nearby city and he barely asked any questions about what was happening. He’s a biker too; I assumed he could hear the defeat in my voice.
It was only at this time that my boyfriend “abandoned” me at my own urging. I told him that I would be safe, I had a rescue vehicle coming, and worst case I wasn’t so bad off that I couldn’t roll the 30 miles on pavement back to the original finish line if shit hit the fan. We parted ways and I rolled down the hill into Lake City, shedding a few quiet tears due to my predicament. I truly believed I had more to give when I lined up at the start. Not finishing a 105 mile race doesn’t exactly lend confidence to someone doing a 380 mile event in just over a month…
My dad met me at a gas station and immediately started taking pictures. You see, he used to blog regularly and he hasn’t lost his urge to photographically document EVERYTHING. I forlornly say in the front seat as he finished loading bikes in the back seat, and then we stuffed ourselves with fast food. We went back to the finish line to wait for our friends to roll through the finish. It wasn’t until later that I learned that the woman who passed me on the climb ended up WINNING the race. Unbeknownst to me I was actually in the lead for a short time on Saturday! I’m remorseful but mostly stand by my decision to bail and save my energy for another day.
I’ve been analyzing and overthinking the race since it ended. I can’t help but think I’m over trained, that the high cycling volume in recent weeks has left me a little burnt out. I intended for this ride to fit well into my training, and instead I feel like it has mostly shaken my sense of my abilities. I truly felt like I gave Saturday my all – maybe not “all” that my legs theoretically have, but perhaps all that I was capable of giving on that day. I still can’t tell when I should push myself through the dead legs and tired mind, or when I need to listen to that urge and take a day or two off. I’ve been told that the ability to discern comes through practice and time, but already being in my mid thirties I don’t feel like time is on my side. I’ve been cycling for a few years and I’m anxious to improve. Tell me, what knowledge have you gained to help you learn when you need a break? I plan to take at least a few days completely off the bike and will debate what to do next — I am signed up for an event next weekend but am unsure if I should participate. What’s your opinion?