In the past I’ve only ever raced in the solo division at endurance events. I loved pushing myself as hard and as far as I could. Teams would fly past me and while I envied their “race pace franticness,” I enjoyed being able to ride non-stop at an endurance pace. Racing solo meant that I only had to depend on me. It also meant that I didn’t have to worry about letting anyone else down.
This winter things changed while I was racing The Great Lakes Fat Bike Series. At the Noquemanon start line I noticed that I wasn’t the only female lined up in the front row. A few racers down, there was another girl on an identical Salsa Beargrease. I didn’t know it at the time but that girl was April Morgan, a super-fast mountain bike racer from Minnesota. I beat her...but not by much. The next day we both lined up again for the shorter race, and this time she was wearing a Salsa jersey that I also own. I was like, “Who is this girl? She’s so cool!” She beat me at that race and we went back and forth for the rest of the series. It was great having someone pushing me to race faster, and over time April and I became friends. By the end of the series we were talking about joining forces and racing as a duo in the 12-hour division at the Wausau 24.
Fast forward a few months:
Nine Mile Forest: a course that I’ve raced solo on countless times. And yet this year I showed up feeling like a complete newbie. Both April and I were getting a lot of advice from our coaches and other racers on how to approach the race while racing duo. We decided that we would each do a fast lap and then settle into doing two laps at a time in order to give the person who wasn’t out racing more time to rest and eat. I was nervous because I had no clue how my body was going to react to going out hard, stopping, and then going out hard again.
April did the first lap and it felt incredibly weird not lining up with the other racers. However, it was also fun being able to watch the race start from the sidelines and to cheer everyone on. I felt really proud as I watched my teammate take off with the lead men. It wasn’t long before it was my turn.
Danielle getting after it at Wausau...
Racing duo was WAY harder than I imagined, but it was also way more fun. I basically felt like I was doing multiple cross-country races throughout the day. After each lap I would think to myself that there was no way that I could go out that hard again but then it would be my turn and I would surprise myself. My fears about letting my teammate down were completely unfounded, but racing as a “plus one” certainly pushed me to race as hard as I could. Even when my legs felt like they were going out (and trust me, they did) I would push as hard as I could to get back to the transition area. Even my “transition area experience” was different this year. In the past I would always go in and out of the transition area without looking around much because I would be lost in my solo world of non-stop pedaling. But this time I would come in almost red lining, and I would always feel a huge sense of relief as soon as I spotted my smiling teammate waiting for me.
Racing duo also gave me the luxury of being able to observe other parts of the race that I normally missed out on. Not only could I talk with other teams, I was also able to cheer for the other solo racers. Over time I started to notice them slowing down, and could tell that they were struggling both physically and mentally. I knew all too well how they were feeling.
The best part of racing duo was the feeling that I had April’s back and she had mine. Crossing the finish line and having a teammate to celebrate first place with was such a great feeling.
Double trouble...for the other duo teams...
I still love racing solo and I know I’ll do more of it. However, racing duo is just as fun and really great training. I couldn’t have asked for a better teammate and I definitely plan on returning to Wausau with April next year to defend our win. Plus, April had the fastest lap between the two of us so next year I have to try and beat it. Ha!
Here are some tips from racing duo that I learned along the way:
*Bring lots of good food. Enough for you and (even more importantly) enough for your teammate! You know that saying about the grass being greener on the other side? That was the case with our food. Everything that April and her husband brought looked so much better than what I had and I will be the first to admit that I ended up eating all of their food, and vice versa.
*Bring extra clothes for different types of weather. I brought a lot of riding gear but it never occurred to me that I would be sitting for half of the race. Temps were in the high-50’s and I would get really cold whenever I wasn’t racing. I recommend bringing a sleeping bag, a hat, warm shoes, and multiple layers. And if the weather is hot bring ice and other items to keep you cool.
*If you have extra kits, bring them! That includes gloves, socks and extra chamois cream. The biggest luxury of racing duo was being able to change into a new pair of shorts and a jersey after doing a few laps. There is something to be said about going out for a new lap in a dry kit. It felt amazing!
*Have a support person. Initially I thought that we wouldn’t need much support since we were racing as a team, but it was the complete opposite. I can’t thank April’s husband Tom enough for helping us out. I would finish a lap so whacked out that I couldn’t think straight, and Tom would keep track of lap times, make sure I had enough food, get warm clothing and most importantly...ride over to the food trucks for pulled pork and coffee.
*Have a tarp or some sort of covering for the ground. We had a great tent, but no covering for the ground. As a result our feet always felt slightly wet from the wet grass. It would have been nice to have a layer between the damp ground and our feet.
*Single laps are the way to go for races that are 12 hours and under. Towards the end of the race April and I switched back to doing single laps because it was faster. Yes doing two laps allowed for the other person to get more rest but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. When we were doing two laps my legs started to feel really stiff and heavy after sitting for so long. Plus hammering out one lap at a time is a lot easier than two, even with less rest time.
Thanks for reading! And if anyone has any other tips for racing duo please share! I definitely plan on doing more of it and would love to know all of the secrets out there!
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These are a few of my favorite things: Mountain biking, good coffee, good food, and hanging out with my husband, family and adopted greyhound. It really doesn't take much to make me happy. Of course, winning a race every now and then is good too! www.daniellemusto.blogspot.com