As a 51-year-old who doesn’t race very often, I never know what to expect when I throw down an entry fee and join the crowd at the start line. I never entertain thoughts of actually winning a race - that’s for people who “train” rather than ride, and for those who race more than twice a year. I usually try to finish in the top half, and about half of the time, I do.
Last Saturday I lined up for the Lutsen 39er (45er) - a mountain bike race in northern Minnesota. It’s a beautiful part of the country on the shore of Lake Superior and a stone’s throw from Canada. It’s hilly and lakey and woodsy - occasionally buggy and muddy. I have always felt at-home in the north woods and around the Great Lakes and if I were not so firmly entrenched in my Iowa home, I’d probably live there.
I know that the only people who have any interest in reading a race report are other riders, so out of respect to the regular Upstairs Project readers, I’ll keep it short.
Lutsen gives racers a choice of 19, 39, 69 or 99 mile events. I’ve done marathons before and I remember what it’s like to suffer, and since I do this for fun, I chose the reasonable-length 39er (which was actually a 45er, with a late change in the route). We start at the Lutsen ski resort. The first mile is a screaming-fast descent to the highway beside Lake Superior - then a two-mile spin up the highway before turning inland for a climb that lasts about six miles. Once on top, the course constantly rolls on dirt forest-service roads and doubletracks. The only singletrack is a mile from the end and the only other big climb is the last mile back up to the finish line.
After my experience at the Dakota Five-O last year, I was determined to race smart and not go too hard, too soon. I started about half-way back in the pack of 617 riders. I stayed out of trouble on the initial fast descent, used the two miles on the highway to warm up, and then just rode assertively, but not too aggressively, for the rest of the race. I surprised myself by constantly passing people on the first big climb. I’m not really a climber and my bike isn’t either, but my steady tempo was putting other riders behind me. I still felt fresh at the top of the climb and I felt right at-home on the rolling dirt roads for the next 35 miles or so. It was just like riding Iowa gravel.
I felt good for the entire race. I had a goal of finishing under four hours, and as the first and second hours passed, I was running ahead of schedule. I still felt strong and was continually passing other racers. After two and a half hours it became clear that unless I had a total meltdown, I was going to meet my time goal rather easily.
In the closing 45 minutes or so, I dialed-up my efforts just a bit and continued to catch and pass other riders. Sometimes I was riding in pacelines and sometimes on my own. I only really struggled in the one mile of singletrack just before the final climb - I had difficulty finding my “flow” on the twisty trail after so many miles on the wide-open dirt roads. The final climb to the finish line was steeper and harder than I wanted it to be, but shorter and easier than a lot of things that I’ve done on a bike.
It was a perfect day for me. The weather was cool to start the race and only really warmed up right at the end. The terrain was perfectly manageable for someone who trains on Iowa gravel roads. The other racers were friendly. The scenery was beautiful. In the end, I crushed my four-hour goal by finishing in 3:14. I was 116th of 617 overall, and 30th of 113 in my age group, so I made it into the top half of the top half which thrilled me.
I haven’t written about riding or racing much this summer, but I’m out there on my bike about five times a week, trying to get stronger and faster. I’m planning to do a time trial or two on my road bike and I have another Lake Superior race coming up in August. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Every time I race, I go through a bit of self-analysis, asking myself why I do this. It’s not just that I love riding my bikes - I love to be challenged. How about you? I’d love to hear what you do to challenge yourself, be it running, painting, or concocting the perfect pesto recipe. Talk back to me on facebook or email - I really AM interested. Thanks for reading.