Wolf Creek 12 - hour

I have a problem. Typically, when a race is announced, I feel compelled to sign up for the longest distance. This, I say to myself, sounds like an interesting challenge/great training opportunity. Somehow "shorter" tends to equate itself with easier, though in truth I've never done a short race and finished thinking Wow, that was easy. Sure wish I could keep running/riding. 

More often, early into a race where I've once again bitten off more than I can chew, I belatedly realize that I've made a terrible mistake. And then I finish, race amnesia sets in, and I sign up for something like a solo 12-hour mountain bike race.

I believe this was the second year that my cycling team, the Team Noah Foundation, has held this race. I missed it last year, but this year I made sure to fit it into my schedule. Training specificity be damned, I tagged this flat, non-technical mountain bike race as my last long ride for both the insanely hilly Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra and the very hilly BT Epic mountain bike race.

Mickey, Kevin, and I drove down early race morning and were ready in plenty of time for the 10 a.m. start. There were 6-hour and 12-hour races, and the 12-hour featured both teams and solos. Only two of us girls were nutty enough to sign up for the solo race, so the only question was who would be on which step of the podium.

Race plan:

Scrolling through instagram the previous night, I'd seen a Kate Courtney pre-race posts with the acronym PACE (positive attitude, complete effort). I wasn't sure exactly what complete effort would entail for me, so I tweaked it for myself to "positive attitude, consistent effort".  My PACE goal was to stay on the bike, be efficient at stops, and be nice to myself. I thought 7 laps (11 miles each) was definitely an achievable goal.

Hydration/nutrition plan: 

Camelbak of water, 1 ~400 calorie bottle of Roctane every two laps, rice bar at the feed zone every lap or two, and some assorted gummies in my feed bag to provide any needed mid-lap calorie needs.

Lap 1:

The first lap started with a short gravel climb to spread out the pack before hitting the singletrack, and I spun slowly up in my easy gear. Tiffiney, the other 12-hour girl, passed me on the hill and turned onto the trail several bike lengths in front of me. She'd finished ahead of me in July's Leadbelt MTB race, even after running a trail race the previous day, so her early pass was hardly a surprise to me.

What's with my posture? I guess this is how I feel about uphill starts.
Team racers not riding the first lap were clustered around the entrance to the singletrack cheering, and as I rode past my buddy Erl called out, "Tortoise and the hare, Kate! Tortoise and the hare!"

Heading onto the trail.
Photo credit: Karen Holtman
It occurred to me as soon as I hit the singletrack that I wasn't positive my front and rear shocks were unlocked. Not too skilled at reaching down and flipping dials at any speed above coasting, I decided I'd look into that when I stopped after the lap. Less than two miles in, I passed first Tiffiney (wait, did I just become the hare? Damn, I know how that fable goes), then a six-hour girl, and then one of the 12-hour guys. I'm typically hesitant to ask to pass since I assume they'll just be passing me right back, but at this point in the race I reminded myself they could always go back around me (whether or not I should pass was never again an issue).

The trail became significantly more twisty -- NOT my forte -- right after I passed the guy, so I asked if he wanted by. "No, I usually go out way too hard and blow up, so I'm trying to start out easier."

"That's funny," I replied, "Because I'm usually overly conservative and I'm trying to be fast."

He spent most of the lap right behind me. I resisted further urges to get out of the way, and his presence made me push harder than I normally would. I have a hard time eating and drinking on even easy singletrack, so I alternated between keep pushing, stay out of his way, you can eat and drink when you get back to the feed zone and hey, dummy, race your race. Don't screw up your whole day by ignoring hydration and nutrition on the first lap.

I basically ignored the latter advice, though I managed to drink from my camelbak. I lost my tail with just over a mile left in lap one, when I hit the second road crossing and briefly started up the gravel, somehow missing the trail directly in front of me. I made a quick u-turn and gave chase, passing the race photographer as I did so.

One mile to go in lap 1.
Photo credit: Janzow photography

I crossed the finish line at 1:07 race time, timidly negotiating the thick gravel on the turn and, contrary to the assurances I'd given my earlier self, rolling right through the feed zone without stopping to eat. I had plenty of water, so I scarfed a pack of gummies and chugged some Roctane as I rolled down the gravel road and onto lap 2.

Lap 2:

This lap I went with a slightly easier pace, though not slow enough to fiddle with my shocks yet. Tiffiney caught me within a couple miles, and she too was content to stay on my wheel, telling me, "When I go fast, I crash."

I had to laugh. For the third time in less than two hours, I'd basically been called slow. I mean, they weren't wrong, but still. The two of us spent the rest of the lap chatting about special education and were mid-conversation when we rolled around a turn and were surprised by the photographer.

Photo credit: Janzow Photography

We reached the feed zone within seconds of each other. I took a second to grab a full Roctane bottle, finally unlock my rear shock, I think ask Mickey to fill my empty bottle with water, and cram a rice cake into my mouth before rolling back out.

Lap 2 time: 1:13
Feed zone time: 2.5 minutes

Lap 3: 

Tiffiney was still at her tent when I rolled by, and she caught me again a few miles into the lap. We did more chatting, but less so as the miles ticked away. I was starting to feel crappy. It was hot -- a high temp of 91 that day -- and the thankfully shady trail had almost no air movement. My back hurt, and I was starting to ponder the fact that I still had a long day ahead of me.  I gave myself a little suck it up pep talk and focused on that consistent effort. Eventually the separation between us grew, and I rolled back into the feed zone alone.

Lap 3 time: 1:18

Between the heat and my achy back, I was done with the Camelbak. I stopped at my cooler to drop off the pack and grab that water bottle, then looked blankly at my bike, just now realizing I only had one water bottle cage. Carrie Sona was between laps and asked if I needed anything. "Ice?" I asked, handing her my partially empty Roctane bottle. I drank some water and ate a rice bar while waiting, then thanked Carrie, shoved my icy Roctane bottle into my jersey pocket, and rolled away again.

Feed zone time: 4 minutes

Lap 4:

As I rode away from the feed zone I realized that every single thing I needed to fix a flat was in the pack I'd left behind; I kept going, fully conscious that I was rolling the dice. Somehow flatting out of a race didn't summon the kind of worry it might have a few hours previously. 

I spent this lap waiting for Tiffiney to once again catch me but never saw her. There was no chance to be lonely, though, as racer after racer passed me, almost everyone saying something encouraging as they went by. I had a lot of friends on the course, but even the people I didn't know were super nice, and it was so impressive to see just how fast everyone else was riding. I spent this lap trying to pay attention to landmarks, cheering on other racers as they went by, cautiously reaching down for my water bottle, and regretting my 12-hour hubris. You can take a break after this lap, I told myself, then immediately reneged on the promise.

Lap time: 1:21

This time it was Carrie Cash who saw me roll in, asked what I needed, and brought ice in response. Unable to reach into my jersey pocket while riding, I chugged Roctane while waiting, then dumped the cup of ice into my sports bra and rode away again. Next time, I consoled the betrayed Kate who'd  been expecting a break. We'll stop next time.

Feed zone time: 4 minutes

Lap 5:

More heat, more people passing. The great thing about a multi-loop course is that the more you ride it, the more comfortable you get with it, and the faster you can ride it. The flip side is that the longer you ride it, the more tired and uncomfortable you are, and the slower you ride.

I passed the six-hour mark during this lap, which meant that the lucky six-hour racers would soon be off the course. More importantly, it meant that within an hour or two the temperature would finally start to drop. Best of all, though, it meant that my inner taskmaster would finally allow a break.

Lap time: 1:25

I went to the bathroom while Mickey grabbed me one of the pulled pork sandwiches being served, then I went back to the food table to load up on tater tots (manna from heaven) and finally sit down to eat. He put a fresh bottle on my bike, put on my light (I'd spent the day focusing on race time, so in my head it was 6:30 and going to be dark in another hour. In reality, 6:30 was the amount of time I'd been racing, which meant it was only 4:30 in the afternoon and still hours from nightfall), and then got me a snow cone.

I shoveled in the sandwich and tots, but eating the snow cone too fast gave me a headache. Eager to start my next lap before Tiffiney arrived but unwilling to give up my snow cone so soon, I walked my bike through the feed zone and back to the road before sadly throwing away the last of my icy treat, loading my jersey up with ice again, and riding away.

Feed zone time: 15 minutes

Lap 6:

If I'd been the tortoise earlier in the race, I'd now been downgraded to the sloth. Slow or not, I kept moving. Moving and calculating how many more laps I could/had to ride. It was going on 5:00, which left me another 5 hours in the race. I was certainly going to have to ride that seventh lap. Maybe you can quit after that, I thought. Seven laps had been my goal. The tired part of me was ok with that.

The more competitive part was worried about whether Tiffiney would have time to ride more than 7 laps. I'd been ahead since the first lap, a most unusual position for me, but had no idea how big my lead was. I'm more comfortable trailing behind and seeing what happens. Beyond race position, though, I knew that however I justified it while I was tired, the next day I'd regret stopping earlier than I had to. Besides, my race number was 888, and it would be pretty cool to ride 8 laps for 88 miles.

Lap time: 1:41

Back at the feed zone, no one knew how far behind Tiffiney was, and I didn't care enough to go ask at the timing tent. I don't remember if I grabbed more food or bottles or what, just grudgingly rode back out to start my next lap.

Feed zone time: 5 minutes

Lap 7:

This one was all about motivation. Make it three miles, then you can stop for a minute. I made it to mile three and decided I could make it to the first gravel road crossing at mile five. After a brief stop, my next min-goal was another three miles; then I'd have final three miles until I was back at the feed zone and maybe I could just be done after seven laps. Seven laps was plenty.

Instead of taking breaks at my mini-goals, I mostly just reached anything resembling an uphill, looked at it in disdain, and walked my bike until the trail was flat again. Lee passed me during one such section and deemed my strategy "end-of-race-itis". Accurate.

Lap time: 1:36

I rolled into the feed zone sore, tired, and unsure whether I was going back out again. Mickey and Kevin were right there. "Tiffiney left 40 minutes ago. What do you need?"

I looked at them blankly as I tried to do the math and figure out whether she'd have time to ride an eighth lap. It was 7:40, and if she was riding at a pace near mine she still had around an hour left in her lap. That would be 8:40. All laps had to be finished by 10 p.m. to count. She probably wouldn't have time for another. I could just stop.

Mickey was having none of it. "Do you want to have to race her if she goes out again, or do you just want to keep your lead?"

The only thing I wanted to do less than ride 11 more miles was to have to fight for the win. With an angry sigh I rode away one more time.

Feed zone time: 4 minutes

Lap 8:

I ticked off landmarks. I walked up anything I wanted. I stopped to eat food I didn't really need. I saw a lot of people I hadn't seen on the trail all day. I was achy and chafed, but at least the night was cooler and -- hallelujah! -- there was no way I had time for any more laps.

Lap time: 1:38

In the end, the winning teams rode an insane 14 laps, the winning solo guy rode 10 laps, and my 8 laps was enough to take the win for solo women. It may have been a small field, but I fought for that top spot. As rare as that is for me, I'm going to savor it.

I'm not sure I've ever been on the first place podium with anyone else in the division.
Photo credit: Janzow Photography


  1. Love, love, love this report. Thanks so much for breaking it down by lap, and sharing all that you did. I can't wait to see you at Spotted Horse!

  2. Alright, congrats on the win!


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