Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.
Originally published: June 2019
Talking Tourism: The Lutsen 99er… and the Importance of Setting Goals by Molly O’Neill, Administrative Manager and casual endurance mountain biker
At the end of this month, I’m going to ride my mountain bike a hundred miles through the forest with over five hundred other crazy people. I mean “athletes”. If all goes well, I expect to be on my bike for at least ten hours to complete the course. Now it sounds crazy, right? How this particular challenge became one I need to check off my bucket-list is a little unclear even to me. Simply announcing the intention does nothing to guarantee that I’ll accomplish the goal. But this year, 2019, I’ve committed to trying. As the Lutsen 99er began to gain popularity several years ago, so did mountain biking in the community, and I thought that it was a fun thing to add to the active outdoor lifestyle I sought. Group rides became a regular activity, and I busted out my dad’s old Trek rigid frame from my parents’ shed. I remember him bringing it home when I was eight years old, a dinosaur by today’s standards but top-of-the-line in its day. Nearly two decades later I promised myself, and the raised eyebrows around me, that if I could ride the 39er that year on that bike, that I’d start saving to upgrade and maybe someday I’d ride the whole 99er.
Setting goals to tackle major challenges comes with a full set of lessons and emotions from humility and humor to confidence and pride, and are all best handled with plenty of grace. I had a mountain bike as a kid, and just like other kids, I fell off from time to time. Let me tell you, falling off your bike as an adult is every bit as traumatic and far more startling than it was at ten years old. Mastering how to clip and unclip my new shoes from the pedals was the first of many techniques learned by repeated failures on the trails and backroads. Learning how to train is something I feel I’ve just scratched the surface of. How do you form a training plan that will get you to the finish line? Do you set your goals by distance? By speed or time? How often should you ride or cross train? Do you need rest days? How do you measure your progress? How do you equip yourself to accomplish these goals? What do you do about your failures?
My approach is part feeling my way through the dark, part gleaning knowledge from others with more experience, and part winging it. There is validation in setting a mark for yourself and improving whether you’ve set appropriate goals and met them or not. Some days you miss the mark and it can be discouraging, but more often I find that if I quiet the voice in my head that says “you’re too tired” or “it might rain” or “you can do it tomorrow” and put on my gear and head out the door it gets better from there. Even if I didn’t complete a planned route in the goal time I aimed for or I cut my plan short, I usually saw improvement the next time I went out. Breathing was easier or my quads didn’t burn quite so badly the next ride, even if I’d fallen short on some of my ambitions last ride. Some goals are formed on the fly, in tiny increments like pushing hard until the next road sign or up one more little hill or just two more minutes of effort. It’s the culmination of the little goals and small accomplishments that build your training base into a greater schedule of goals that prepares you to carry yourself 100 miles on two wheels.
Long-distance rides and miles per hour aren’t the only benchmarks you need to set for yourself. Though the race course has aid stations with mechanical, nutritional, and medical support, your training rides do not. Becoming capable of taking care of your body and your equipment on your own are critical aspects of training. Do I know how to repair a flat tire or to recognize when I need a snack before I’m too fatigued? With long routes through sections without cell phone coverage, it’s still possible to get stranded on your own for quite some time without rescue. On some routes, I’ve ridden with my running shoes in my pack because I’m a better jogger than I am a bike mechanic… Improving my bike repair know-how and learning how to efficiently fuel and replenish my body while riding have been essential goals to keep setting.
As I write this article, the race is still in front of me. I’m approaching the critical point in which I have to be brutally honest with myself in evaluating my progress on weekly mileage and pace goals. If I can’t ride at a minimum pace on race day, I’ll miss the cutoff times and get pulled out at an aid station. All the efforts with none of the gratification of finishing, of checking off that box at the finish line would be pretty disheartening. Using a sports tracking app on my phone, I’ve recorded all my training rides to measure my pace and ride statistics. I’m in good position for the first 30-40 miles. But will I be able to sustain that for another 60 miles without debilitating muscle cramps or risking injury from being underprepared? Will I have the discipline to continue to push my body past the limits I thought it was subject to? Will I have the confidence to see it through? If the public commitment of a newspaper article for all my family, friends and community to see isn’t enough to keep pushing me through the mud and exhaustion, I’m not sure what is. I hope to see some familiar faces out there on the trail testing their own goals with me on race day.