Tour De Tinian: Lessons Learned During 100K MTB Race
This last weekend I competed in the Tour De Tinian, a 100K mountain bike race on the small island of Tinian, in the Northern Mariana Islands. I had done 100k bike races before, but not like this. I can knock off 100k on a road bike in around 4-hours, but on trails it took me about 5-hours. Because Tinian is so close to the equator, it got HOT!!! Honestly, this race made the Hell of the Marianas seem like a ride around the park. We started the race at about 6:30 and by 9am, the sun was radiating full blast. It was at least in the high 80s, but add a few steep climbs through the jungle and it feels like you can cook breakfast on your back.
So, I learned a couple of important lessons during this race. First, although I “knew” this already, don’t burn out your legs with an early lead in an ultra endurance race! I started out with the lead group and then got frustrated at the pace and decided to break away after the first 30 minutes or so. For the next two hours, I was by myself at the front thinking I had the race in the bag.
Then, right after a long stretch up an abandoned runway against a howling wind, my legs basically locked up from cramping. I upped my electrolyte consumption, which helped, but I just couldn’t keep up the pace I had been going. I was lucky I didn’t have to stop completely. Soon enough, the 3-pack that had been chasing me , Nap, Jerome, and Erico, caught up to me.
I joined their group and partook in the drafting for about the next hour, before Nap and Erico broke away to race for first. I was content to at least make the podium for third place. Next time, I’ll stay with the group and conserve my energy for the last hour though. In retrospect, it was a beginner’s mistake to break away so early. Every book and article that I’ve read on biking talks about the guy who goes out too early. All the racers who had done the race before told me the same thing. Anyhow, I’ve always been one to learn the hard way.
The second lesson I learned had to do with nutrition. I can power through a 4-hour triathlon on gels, but a 100K mountain bike race in the blazing hot sun is another animal. I wasn’t sure what the aid station situation would be, but as it turned out, it was JUST WATER. Sometimes, just water out of a cooler, so you would have to stop and pour. I brought 5 gels with me during the race, but consumed them in the first 3 hours. I also had 2 bottles of powerade, loaded with a scoop of protein in one of them. I felt fantastic for those first 3 hours. Once my fuel ran out and I was left with only water though, I really started to bonk. Next time, I’ll carry more food, including real food, like rice balls and/or bananas. I’ll also make sure I have some Powerade or Gatorade at the aid stations, even if I have to make special arrangements.
Of course, I could also always train harder. I joined this race at the last minute and can’t be too upset with my finish. In the end, I still got third place, had a great mini-vacation, and spent time with some awesome people. I hope the Tour De Tinian continues to grow and attract participants from different places. Tinian is a beautiful, rural island, and the race literally takes you to every corner of it. There are stunning ocean views, World War II sights, lush jungles, and tons of picturesque farm roads. If you aren’t suffering too much, it’s a beautiful race. Just finishing the race is a real accomplishment. If you’re interested in joining the race next year, check out the Facebook page. The race coincides with the annual San Jose Festival, so book early because the few hotels on-island fill up quickly.