The next stop of the Florida Endurance Season took us to one of the best trails in the state, Alafia River State Park. My legs and body were pretty tired from doing 4 endurance races January and February, but when this 6 hour race rolled around the first week of March I couldn’t say no. Alafia is just that good; tough climbs, skinny trails on the edge of cliffs over the water, and big ol’ oak trees make for a great trail system.
There hasn’t been much rain down this way in the last month, so after getting a chance to pre-ride the course on Saturday I saw there was a bit of sand out there. Of course nothing compares to a dry Jonathan Dickinson State Park that I usually ride when it comes to sand, but I knew the small sections would take their toll as the day went on. The forecast couldn’t be better, mid 50’s at race start warming up into the low 70’s. We got a couple laps in with a few friends and started to strategize about how the day would go. I knew with my tired legs I just had to be smart all day and not go out too hard, but who knows what the day gives you when the whistle blows.
One thing I try to do is figure out how long the race laps will be timewise so that I have a good nutrition plan in place. I know pretty much how many calories and how much water I need per hour, so I modify how much Infinit Nutrition mix I’m putting in each bottle based on how often I’m taking them in the race. It’s designed to take 1 serving per hour, so after pre riding I knew we were looking at 35-40 minute lap average for me over 6 hours. I made sure my bottles had the right mix so I could take one each lap, planning on 9 laps in 6 hours.
Normally I like to start towards the front of these races to make sure I don’t get caught up in too much traffic, but I ended up closer to the back when Dave Berger motor paced us through some single track and out onto a sandy dirt road to start. I knew it would be a little different starting from the back, especially when I saw my friend Philip up at the front where I usually was. We’d swapped starting strategies without even knowing it, so I’d hoped we could swap race results since he always beats me in the end. The cool thing about where I started was that I got to pace my friend Sarah who’s training for the Pisgah Stage Race. Since she beat me in the Alafia Classic last year I knew she’d be a great person to line up next to.
The first few laps definitely had some traffic I wasn’t used to, but I was able to safely navigate my way through and settle into a nice rhythm that I felt I could hold for 6 hours. It was certainly different not to go FULL GAS out of the gate like I had in races past, I felt good but I knew the front group was long gone. I hoped to catch them by the end in true tortoise vs hare fashion.
The course had some incredibly fun drops, the clay based soil there really grips nicely and lets you rip around the course into the next climb. I tried to keep smooth and consistent, stay off the brakes and no big surges as I clicked off the laps. In a race like this with several laps, it’s tough to keep track of exactly what lap you’re on sometimes. And around lap 6 I definitely lost track, so I just kept on pedaling and grabbing bottles every lap. I had a couple mishaps on the bike, once washing out on a rooty corner and another time narrowly missing a wooden bridge, but it didn’t cost me significant time or injury so that was fortunate. I was a little confused about how many laps I had left, but doing the math towards the end I knew whatever lap I was on (it was my 9th) would be my last. I crossed the finish line with about 31 minutes to spare, not enough to complete another lap (thank goodness).
Without starting so hard I definitely had more left in my legs, but by the end of the day it wasn’t enough. I worked through traffic all day but couldn’t catch the top 3 guys, finishing 4th in my class. We all talked afterwards about how we’re ready for a little break before the next race at the end of April, it’s been a very fun season so far but tough too. It was cool to see some of my training partners get on the podium in the team category in a STACKED field, as well as my friends Beata and Sarah go 1-2 in the Women’s Open category. The camaraderie after a race is super cool, everyone hung out at our tent for a bit and shared how the day went for them or what they saw out there. We had some new racers do very well which was awesome to see too, just getting into this side of cycling and loving every minute of it.
Jemma grabbed a few shots at the race including this one of me all salty and exhausted at the tent afterward, so be sure to check them out and use them for your latest bike race profile photo! We really hope you enjoy them, check out the full Alafia Classic 2018 Endurance Race Gallery and sneak peek below!