Perceived exertion… that was the theme for the Tri-State 6-Hour mountain bike race on Sunday, July 24, 2016 at Hueston Woods State Park. This was not planned. I’m not a big fan of perceived exertion, which is a method of measuring your effort using how your body feels, I want data. Speed… Heart rate… Time… Air temperature… Total ascent… I want it all laid out in front of me. …and it was, until that silly little wipeout which caused my Garmin to tumble into the woods.
After that, I was stuck measuring my efforts with perceived exertion for most of my race.
I was alone with my thoughts, just spelunking through the pain cave without my electronic buddy to keep me company and assure me.
It was the third race in the 2016 Tri-State 6 Hour series, but my second race since I was on vacation for the race at Versailles. I finished 2nd at East Fork in the Solo Singlespeed division and that had given me some confidence that I could survive 6 hours of singletrack with only one gear and no suspension. Now my new goal was to take that same set-up and increase the intensity a little.
The race started out well. A lot of the geared bikes rode away from me on the road, but I entered the woods somewhere in the middle of the pack. I was definitely off to a faster start than I had gotten at East Fork and I was more aggressive about asking for passes on the first lap than I usually am. Pretty soon, almost too soon, I had caught my nemesis, Chris Knapp. I generally use him as a benchmark for my own performance since I’ve raced with him so much. He usually starts out faster than I do and I started to worry that I had gone out too fast and would fade towards the end. He told me he wasn’t feeling well, so I tried not to overthink it. (Hope you feel better Chris!)
I finished the first lap right around the 1 hour mark and started to wonder whether I would be shooting for 5 or 6 laps. The lap length was 10.3 miles, so I needed to average about 10.4 mph or better to finish 6 laps.
Lap 2 was finished at 1:59:38 – just under 2 hours. I was on pace for 6 laps, but I knew that I would have to push myself to my limits to do it. So far my pacing seemed perfect and I just wanted to lean on the numbers from my bike computer for inspiration every now and then.
I started lap 3 with laser focus. I wanted to see if I could just maintain the pace I needed to finish the sixth lap just under 6 hours – not too fast, not too slow. Within a mile or 2, a pair of riders came up on my rear and my competitive instincts started to kick in. This wasn’t even half way, so I knew that if I pushed myself too hard now I would pay for it later. The thermometer was inching towards 90 and I knew that the effort was only going to get harder.
I decided to let the guys pass because I thought that trying to outrun them would burn too many matches. I was so proud of myself for sticking to the plan that maybe I got a little distracted. That’s the only lame excuse I can think of for what happened next.
I was traveling around an easy nondescript corner with no roots or rocks and just lost my balance and fell. What was that? It came out of nowhere. There was absolutely no good reason for me to fall. My mind wandered for half a second and I just fell over.
I picked up my bike quickly because I wasn’t injured in this very boring and unexplained fall. I hopped on and kept riding – wondering what had just happened. I didn’t immediately realize that this would completely change my mental game and strategy for the rest of the day.
It was at least a mile before I had completely shaken off my mistake to look down at my speed to make sure I was still maintaining the right pace. When I glanced towards my handlebars I realized that my Garmin was missing. It had fallen off. Oh crap. I wasn’t sure if I was more annoyed that this was going to affect my race strategy or because it was going to cost me a couple of hundred bucks.
I felt like I had gone too far to head backwards to look for it. But, when I thought about searching for it on the next lap I couldn’t even think of where to look for it. The corner where I fell was so unremarkable that I couldn’t think of a single landmark to distinguish where I should be looking. Should I stop my race to look? Even if I abandoned the event there was no guarantee I would find it. Someone might have already picked it up.
I kept riding but now I no longer had my Garmin to lean on. I just perceived that I was using the right level of exertion – but was it fast enough? Only my lap times could tell me. There would be no more feedback from here on out.
Lap 3 was finished in 2:58:57. I was still on pace, but barely. The intensity of the sun and the heat was increasing and I was starting to feel the first signs of fatigue. I drank a lot of water and Hammer Perpetuem. I knew I was staying well-hydrated because my bladder kept filling up with nice clear urine. In fact, I probably could have drank a little less because I kept having to pee, but I wanted to err on the side of too much water.
This is what I actually had with me during the race. I opted to travel light. I didn’t carry any tools and I only had just enough food and water to survive the lap. I was hoping if I broke down that it would be close to the team tent. Click on the links to see reviews and prices:
On The Bike:
- Garmin Edge 800 (which I’ll upgrade to the 820 at some point)
- Trek Superfly SS
- Polar Insulated Water Bottles with Hammer Perpetuem Cafe Latte
- Bontrager Rally Mountain Bike Helmet
- Shimano PD-540 MTB Pedals
- Giro Carbide Bike Shoe
- Race Face BB92 Press Fit Bottom Bracket
- Bontrager Race Lite Bottle Cages (Orange)
- Stan’s Notubes Tubeless Set-up Kit – to set-up my tires tubeless before hand.
- Powergel Tangerine 2X Caffeine gels
- Bontrager inForm Evoke grips
- Cliff Bar Chocolate Chip Energy Bar
In the Pit…
- Crank Brothers Multi-tool (17 functions)
- Park Tool Tire Levers (2)
- Stan’s Notubes Sealant 2 oz.
- Park Tool Valve Core Remover
- CO2 Cartridges
- Genuine Innovations Air Chuck Elite Inflator
- Bontrager Flash Charger Tubeless Ready Pump
The Story Continues…
For lap 4, I felt like I was increasing my perceived exertion. I knew I was getting tired and I felt like I had to put more effort into maintaining the pace. I was still passing more people than were passing me, so I felt like I was doing well. There were 7 guys in the singlespeed division and I knew that at least one of them, Brent Mayer, was in front of me. He had beaten me pretty easily at East Fork, but I felt like I was working much harder on the rocky, rooted trails of Hueston Woods. Did I have any chance to catch him? Would I be riding 1 more lap or 2? These were the questions that lingered in my head.
I finished lap 4 in 4:01:34 and my dreams of riding a 6th lap started to wither. I knew I could probably bang out one more lap in under an hour, but with the way I was feeling, two sub-hour laps seemed improbable.
I tried to raise my game a little. The pace felt harder, but was I just more tired? I was trying to walk that delicate line of pushing myself fast enough to hit 5:00:00 at the end of lap 5, but not so fast that I would bonk on lap 6 if I earned that honor. However, without my Garmin, I was really just guessing as to how hard it should feel.
My arms started to ache from bouncing on the singletrack for hours. I started to feel thirsty and depleted from the heat, but I knew that my body couldn’t handle anymore food or drink. I was still holding a good pace, I passed a few people. Two or three duos approached me from the rear, but I wasn’t getting passed by any solo guys. Would I finish lap 5 in under 5 hours? What time would be my cutoff? My fastest lap was around 59 minutes, but I wasn’t fresh anymore. Could I lay down a 60 minute lap in this state of fatigue?
My mind struggled between my competitive instincts that made me want to finish a sixth lap and my body screaming for relief after 5 laps. I pushed myself close to my limit, my quads were on the verge of cramping on the climbs and my hands and forearms were aching on the descents. There was no relief from my misery at this point.
Finally, I sprinted across the line and got edged out by the duo of Team Hoosier Daddy. 5:04:06. There was no way I could do a 6th lap in less than 56 minutes. I was disappointed that my lap wasn’t fast enough to justify more, but glad that I didn’t have to make a tough decision about whether to go out again. My weary body was relieved to stop.
Further through the pit area, I rode by Brent Mayer, my singlespeed rival. He finished his 5th lap nearly 20 minutes faster than me, but had decided not to go back out. He was waiting by the finish to see whether I would go out again.
“Are you doing a 6th?” he asked.
“Nah dude, I’m toast.” I replied with a smile.
He looked relieved. We congratulated each other on a great race and went back to our tents to recover.
After eating and drinking I started to clean up a little. I couldn’t help but think that I might have been able to eek out a little more effort if I had known how close I was on my Garmin Edge 800. It sucked that I was going to have to shell out a couple hundred bucks to buy a new one. I was too fatigued to go out searching for it.
“Hey James, it’s your lucky day buddy!” someone chuckled.
I turned to see Gary Lunsford, who has ridden more Tri-State 6-Hour laps than any other rider in the history of the series, walking towards me.
“I heard you lost a Garmin,” he continued.
He pulled out my Garmin and a huge feeling of relief poured through my heart. I couldn’t believe it. I had given up hope that I would ever see it again. I was happy with my second place finish in the Solo Singlespeed division, but Gary Lunsford had put the icing on the cake. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
5 laps in 5:04:06
- 2 of 7 in Solo Singlespeed (71st percentile)
- 10 of 42 of all solo males (76th percentile)
- 10 of 47 for all solo riders (79th percentile)
- 20 of 76 for all solo and duo teams (74th percentile)
Feel free to download and post to social media. I just ask that you tag James Knott and Quickdirt when you do it.