Previously, we ran a feature on the last three Series winners of the SRAM Singletrack Mind Series, and delved into their motivation, their preparation, and what they have headed onto. Now, we have spoken to three women who also excel at solo races, be they lap based endures, or stage races.
Racing long hours alone, be it in a lap based event, marathon or stage race, takes a certain mentality. You need the desire to succeed, and have the inner drive to keep yourself going when on your own – which is inevitable. Even more so for women who pursue these events. Women’s fields certainly aren’t less competitive, but they are quite often smaller. The desire to achieve goals and push yourself hard is a pre-requisite.
We spoke to three women who have some great accomplishments in lap based solo racing, marathons and stage races. Imogen Smith fell in love with lap based ‘enduro’ races in 2004, and went onto progress in the sport from there. Libby Adamson has found great success in teams events, and has completed a solo 24hour and won the Mongolia Bike Challenge. Bethany Thompson moved across from adventure racing, and enjoys the skills focus that lap based enduro races provide.
Their first step into this style of event was different for each rider, but had a similar result. Libby Adamson actually started recently, “my first solo race beyond three hours was actually this years National 24 hr race. I was inspired by too many years of watching friends participate and race whilst I was riding with a team, and knew that at some point I’d have to step up and have a go. I had a great race – rode non-stop, with pit stops less than 4 minutes throughout, finished 5th overall and first in my age category.”
Somewhat differently, Bethany Thompson entered her first big solo race on a whim – not entirely sure what lay ahead. “Sitting on the couch surfing the internet and icing a sore knee after a 12hr adventure race, I stumbled across an event called Solo 24 hour National Championships being held at Majura in Canberra that coming weekend. I had no idea what the event was or what it entailed and entered on a whim thinking “What the heck that sounds really cool!” Suffice to say, after some racing, cramping, some sleeping, and some more riding, Bethany was in awe of what others around her were achieving. And it’s this awe of what others were capable of that also lead Imogen Smith to solo racing.
“I can remember going to a few enduros and 24-hour races and just being in awe of the solo racers, how at the end they looked like dirty, filthy heroes, and wanting to be like that. After I did one or two and developed my endurance, I loved it.”
Moving into solo lap based races isn’t always an immediate choice – sometimes your strength finds you. Adamson had a great base already “ I’ve moved across into mountain biking from a triathlon/ road base, and my technical skills need a huge amount of work and time. I’m always nervous and tense at the start of races, and the solo lap races allow me the time to relax and ride myself into the event.” Bethany Thompson was hooked after her first solo mountain bike race, and knew it was her niche “it was an immediate love affair with the pain, suffering and satisfaction that come with endurance riding and racing.”
“I’ve always loved the atmosphere out on the track at enduros and this is amplified way up to 11 when you’re a solo rider.” Explains Imogen Smith when asked if she knew that solo racing was for her. “People talk to you, encourage you, yell at you… It’s just a wonderful feeling of community and support.” And that is one of the strengths of the Australian scene, specifically the 24 hour races, and Enduro races like the Singletrack Mind Series.
With a penchant and talent for races that would take up a lot of daylight, and even night time hours – the load of training can be quite a challenge. When you add large amounts of training to work requirements, life, and the need to sleep – any racer who favours endurance events becomes very time pressed. Imogen Smith was quite upfront about why it worked for her – it fitted so well with her lifestyle at the time, “When I was doing a lot of enduro racing, and a lot of quite long enduros, I was also working in a bike shop, so my life was ALL ABOUT bike riding, and that helped. My best advice is when you’re out training, ride with friends, have fun, stop for coffee if you have time. Get your social time in on the bike, because it’s likely you won’t feel like hitting the pub or the dance floor very frequently.”
That ability to draw strength and support from those around you comes up with Bethany Thompson too, “Being surrounded by people who are as nutty as me when it comes to bikes makes things easier I guess. They understand why you go to bed at 8pm every night or why you fall asleep on the table. My advice is to remember your priorities. The training is hard and long but it is rewarding and in the end we are not being forced to do it. We ride because we love it!” Libby Adamson understands the need for sacrafice, as do those around her, “friends and family occasional feel like the bike wins everytime – fortunately a lot of my friends are cyclists. My workplace allows me a fair bit of flexibility, but at the same time I’m generally on my feet for 10 hour working days, which is not great recovery from racing or training.”
These three women have gained a lot from endurance races, be they lap based solo affairs from 8 to 24 hours, or remote Stage Races. And therein lies the challenge ahead – with so many different races to compete in, how do riders choose or specialise? The marathons draw a lot of exposure, stage races can offer adventure, and lap based enduro’s like the Singletrack Mind Series off great trails. Libby Adamson knows she needs to measure her approach, “I love the marathon format, but feel lap based enduros really have their place too. The lap format obviously provides a bit more support and a more social feel for an 8 hour ride than racing a 165k marathon. I intend to race a mixture of the two next year. For me I’m really trying to work on building my technical skills and speed, and the lap based enduros are great for that.”
Bethany Thompson also sees Enduro’s as a fun stepping stone to new challenges, “These seven and eight hour events were great training for me to get back into longer hours of racing. They were also great for my technical skills as they were basically all singletrack and lap after lap you got to keep tackling and overcoming the same obstacles. Plus they are just so much FUN! The hours I have spent racing in events like the STM series, Back Yamma Bigfoot 100km and Highland Fling 100 mile race, have all definitely given me an edge for the bigger races to come.I am now turning my focus on the bikepacking event next year called Tour Divide which will take me 4,481km across the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico, hopefully averaging around 200km a day.”
Imogen Smith knows where her passion lies, and it’s racing lap based enduro’s, “I can see the attraction of marathon races, but nothing beats the lap-based emotional spin-cycle to make a day on the bike really special. You go from elation to despair and back many times – you go through transition feeling like a rock star, then a few minutes later it sinks in the you have another whole lap to go before you feel like a rock star again. I love the feeling of getting to know the track better and better, balancing your fatigue and the evolving (okay, deteriorating) track by remembering every corner, tree, and rock and finding better and better lines.”
So although the depth of races around is ever increasing – each style has its merits. These three women have shown that they are capable of racing solo 8-24 hour races with great success, but can taste success in epic stage races and 100 mile marathons as well. The lap based races have made a solid foundation for them to build on for the future. Check out our calendar for the Singletrack Mind and Rocky Trail GP Series for 2013.