Last weekend I decided to take a short break from the wintery northeast weather and head south to Sebring, Florida to compete in a 12-hour bike race. "Bike Sebring" is a endurance cycling event that takes place every February, offering three races: a 24-hour, a 12-hour and a century. As this would be my very first 12-hour race - not to mention my longest continuous ride on a bike - I had a few reservations about my ability to successfully complete the ride, let alone have a respectable result. On the other hand, a trip to Florida in the middle of winter? I'd have to be crazy not to do it! So, with the encouragement of my wonderful spouse and motivating coach, I threw caution into the wind and signed up.
The race took place on Saturday, February 11. Art & I arrived in Sebring late the Thursday night before, which gave us all day Friday to assemble my bike, take it for a test run, and get all the food, water and supplies we would need for the race. Sebring is famous for its race track (for cars), and part of all the bike races would actually take place on the track (sans cars). For all three races, the course was basically the same, the only variant is when each race ended. The course begins with 3 laps around the race track (3.7 miles each). Riders then transition onto the "long route" (89 miles), an out-and-back route to the city of Frostproof, which is on the Lake Wales Ridge. After completing the long loop, riders then transition to an 11.7-mile "short loop" on roads near the race track, completing as many short loops as possible until about 5:30 p.m., at which point riders are returned to the race track to complete as many laps as possible before the time for their race runs out. All races would begin at 6:30 a.m. My race - the 12-hour - would end at 6:30 p.m.
The Friday afternoon before the race, the parking lot of the host hotel was abuzz with bikes and people getting ready for the race. After I took my test ride, we hung around the parking lot as Art made some minor adjustments to my bike. We got to see some folks we knew and met many new people. We talked with several riders who had done this race before and received a plethora of helpful advice. Later that afternoon, we picked up my registration materials, which contained my timing chip, to be worn on my ankle, my race numbers for my bike, route directions and, of course, the rules. After an great dinner, I hit the hay for an early night.
Woke up bright and early on race day. It was 50 degrees in the early morning, so I started the race wearing my arm warmers. It was going to warm up to the mid 80s during the day, so I knew I wouldn't need them for long.
|All riders ready to start the race|
|What did I get myself into?|
We started in a big group and headed out to the track. It was still dark out, so we all had lights on our bikes to start. It was sort of neat to ride on this famous race track, and it was a great warm-up for the legs.
|Bikes on the race track|
|Finished the first three laps, time to ditch the arm warmers|
From there, we ventured out onto the “long route.” Navigating the route was no problem; all the turns were well-marked, which is good for me because I have a notoriously bad sense of direction. The long route was essentially flat, which allowed you to cruise along at a good pace. It wasn't long before the sun came out and it was time to put my sunglasses on. I reached into my jersey pocket to get them, and as I pulled them out, both lenses fell out. I did not want to stop to fix them, nor do I have the bike-handling skills to fix them while I rode along at 20 miles per hour, so I shoved them back in my jersey pocket and accepted the fact that I would not have the luxury of sunglasses today. In the grand scheme of things that could go wrong this day, this was not a big deal. At one point I saw Art along the long route (as my support person, he drove along the long route and parked at various points to cheer me on and probably also to make sure I didn't go off route). When I saw him, I yelled to him, "Sunglasses broke!" I wasn't sure he even heard me, but he must've because a few miles later, I saw him along the route, and he was holding out his sunglasses for me to take. Now that's what I call unwavering support! His generosity left him without sunglasses for the day.
|Riding the long route|
Once we returned from the long loop, we started our laps on the short loop – an 11.7-mile loop on the road that returned to the “pit" area of the race track each time. That’s where Art and the other racers' support crews were stationed. From there, Art provided me all the food and hydration that I needed. In light of the broken sunglasses incident, I was amazed at how effectively Art & I could communicate with me just shouting things at him from the road - just key words, too, not even complete sentences: "short waterbottle!" "melon!" "cookies!" "e-caps!" Next thing I knew, I had what I shouted.
The short loop was generally flat, with a few minor rises. But there was this one section in the middle that had a stair-step type of rise. It was only about twenty yards long in total, but the second stair step had a grade of about 4%. Normally, a rise like that wouldn’t even phase me, but by the fourth time approaching that little b*****d, I found myself simultaneously swearing at it and praying for strength to get up and over it. 😆 I completed eight rounds of the short loop before the cut-off time.
When I returned to the track pit area after completing my last short loop, I was directed to ride to the race track to start my final laps. As soon as I started my first lap on the track my Garmin died. No big deal, though. Yeah, it would’ve been nice to have the Garmin readings right to the end, but, instead, I monitored myself the old-fashioned way - using my watch and the track clock. I was able to complete four laps around the track before time ran out. At that point, even without my Garmin, I was pretty sure I had rode at least 200 miles, which was the high end of my goal range (I had hoped to ride 180-200 miles). I actually ended up with a total of 210.2 miles, with which I was very pleased.
|My great crew chief, without whom I would not have been successful|
Doing this 12-hour race was an amazing experience. It caused me to push (i.e., pedal) myself farther than I ever have - farther than I ever thought I could. I was really proud to ride in this field of exceptional cyclists, many of whom did the 24-hour race and continued riding laps around the race track for 12 more hours through the night after I stopped. My fellow riders were kind, inspiring, helpful and oftentimes, humorous. I owe a debt of gratitude to my husband and BFF Arthur, who provided incredible support and encouragement before, during and after the race. A world of thanks to my coach, Jose Bermudez, for his training plan, advice and guidance.
Looking forward to the next challenge, pushing the limits and biting off more than I can chew. 😊