This past weekend was the Ouachita Challenge, a 60mi Mountain Bike Race and Ride through the mountains of west Arkansas. It’s not the most challenging race in the country, the longest or the best but it ticks enough boxes to make it a must do event for many a MTB rider.
This is year 2 for me and as I approach my 4th year of competitive cycling I went into the event with little confidence, less fitness and higher weight than last year. There’s reasons and excuses I can make, injury – job loss – new job – beer etc…, but overall I wasn’t pumped. Thankfully, I made the journey with many friends from local shops and teams and knew I was in for a good weekend no matter what. It is the Arkansas Mountains after all and if you like nature it’s hard to be in a bad mood there.
Stop, this is what I was expecting would be my internal mantra for the day as I took the startling with nearly 300 other riders for the Saturday “tour”. It’s a timed event with many heavy hitters, and even though there’s no payout, when two or more riders come to a line… I wanted to finish in under 8 hours, a logical goal for someone approaching 250lbs the week before, riding a borrowed bike and having no structured training since cyclocross season. Instead what happened was amazing.
I’m not sure what took over, residual fitness – raw power – crazy tailwinds, but when I was approaching the final aid station my Garmin was way under 6hrs! Last year, after racing an entire DORBA Frozen 6hr series, 30lbs lighter and much training I only managed a 6:23. When I rolled across the line (literally just barely as the finish is a steep grassy hill) the clock ticked 5:33.
To say I was ecstatic is an understatement and looking at the results I was 17th, out of over 270 registrants! There’s a Radiolab episode all about limits that is one of my favorite radio productions of all time. It happened to have aired as a repeat on the way back from a recent Enduro and I’m taking that as a sign. Athletes understand their mind is powerful and it’s been one of the toughest parts for me to master in progressing as a cyclist; controlling my thoughts, wants and mind.
I didn’t push my limits on Saturday, I controlled them.