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Faded Shapes

Rule of 3 Race Recap

I was originally going to skip doing post race recaps this year, but many people have been requesting them and I also enjoy the process of writing them- so here we are! In addition to being back to racing, the post race blogs are back too!! 

Rule of 3 is a bike race in Bentonville, Arkansas and the name comes from having a course that mixes tarmac, gravel and single track throughout the route. This race is a classic route for people who love to “underbike” which is when you ride a gravel set up on a mountain bike trail. Generally speaking, we let the MTB shredders have that skill as it suits them best. So in summary, with that explanation alone, you can guess this race would not be a race I would historically sign up for. I say that even without having a recent injury and surgery. But, I’m sitting about 10 weeks post ankle surgery and I am in the process of rebuilding lost fitness from my time off. Taking extended time off in the middle of the season is never ideal, but I’ve been managing a positive attitude and doing my best to keep things fun as a reminder to why I ride and race bikes. So in keeping with that mindset, I had messaged the race director to get some insight on the course to see if my rehab team would allow me to race. I was told the race is much more gravel worthy this year to help riders prepare for Unbound and it was advertised as “only 17 miles” of single track across the 114 miles. Well, let me tell you, what I learned about this event is that it is often advertised as a fun, casual party race - which it is - but it also isn't. It’s friggin grueling - taking me over 7 hrs of racing with approximately 3 hours of single track/RUGGED double track within the race. It’s downplayed how hard this event is - I cannot emphasize that enough because it’s crazy challenging with how loose the terrain is and the unrelenting steep gravel and single track climbs. To top it off, it was high humidity and high heat which really added to the brutality of the day. The sheer volume of DNFs from mechanicals, catastrophic flats and people cracking was very high. Anyone who finished that race should be really proud of themselves! In summary, don’t be fooled thinking this is some casual gravel race - Rule of Three is a special kind of race. It’s hard, but the vibes are incredible. You’ll test your mind, your legs and your equipment and I guarantee you’ll have fun. The event is a blast and one to plan to stick around for many hours after you finish (that creek crossing hazing was hilarious…)

So why did I sign up for this while still rehabbing my ankle? Well, this race is in my new backyard so any time I can get a hard day in while also sleeping in my own bed is a plus. But more importantly, I needed a long training day to test the ankle to see if Unbound is still a go to race. I also need a lot of long training days to get back in shape too so it checked that box as well. So I signed up and I started to recon on Wednesday of race week. I headed out with Crystal to scout some of the middle section of the course and it was demoralizing. I had to unclip frequently. I had to cautiously ride through anything that may potentially cause me to re-injure my ankle. I just kept hearing my PT in my ear - “don’t mess up all your hard work, it’s not worth it.” But I was getting frustrated, anxious, agitated and annoyed. It’s not fun riding in fear like that and reminded me of my old self on trails. I put in a lot of work this winter with a skills coach and sports psychologist to actually ride confidently, smoothly and in control and to avoid self criticism while I continue to learn these skills. Doing the underbiking while constantly thinking about my ankle didn’t seem to progress any of the goals I had set for myself - it also seemed risky and just not a fun way to race. I also knew the amount of time I would lose on these long sections would add up so fast too. But after that pre-ride panic, I sat down and just did some thinking. What are my goals in doing this, like specifically what are they? I had 4 goals: have fun, get a good training day in, test equipment for unbound and most importantly, don’t re-injure my ankle. So with that, I told myself this would be primo opportunity for me to practice reframing and focusing on my goals - and to avoid comparison. If I had to walk or unclip, then who cares. So I committed to those goals and approached the race knowing I was going to hammer the gravel or any climbs and then party pace the single track to be smooth, smart and safe. 

So the race overall had a long neutral roll out then up a short climb into a descent that led into gravel. That first gravel road had a lot of pot holes, which in a group can be a tad dicey. I was latched onto that front group at the back but I needed to give some space to see what was in front of me. This led to a bit more work, so I immediately just settled into what I thought was a good all day pace while still pushing for some good position into the first single track section at mile 14. That first ST section was only a few miles of mostly flowy trail so I tried to get in towards the front of my group but was still held up by a rider. But I was okay with that, it helped me avoid feeling rushed to make up ground to the front group with the fast men and also allowed me to avoid mechanicals since several riders flatted in that first rocky single track section. From there, there was a long gravel section, so I was in a fairly big group with 2 other women, Kate and Sammi. I had planned to put in a big effort on a long climb around mile 30 in hopes that a few strong riders would come with me and we could roll a steady, hard pace together. I also knew this was my best chance to get a gap into that long single track section in the middle of the course. As I started to hammer, I caught up to my best friend and trusty wheel John, who is historically right around the same pace as me. He had dropped a chain on a chunky descent and with that front group only a minute up the road that allowed me to catch him when he had his mechanical. We started trading pulls and could see that front group with Crystal and Anna just up the road on this long pavement section but they had a mega group of strong men and we just couldn’t close it. But I was motivated to keep the gap to 4-5th place so the plan continued - keep things steady all day and avoid mechanicals. Pacing was also critical with the pure nature of the steep course and the heat. 

So we rolled as a 2 person TT most of the day, catching some men here and there that were shelled from poor pacing or mechanicals. We welcomed the company any chance we could get but our steady pacing was paying off as we motored through. We finally got to the middle section of the course, which I knew was going to be about 2 hrs of single track and chunky double tracks. It was going to be the hardest part of the course mentally for me, so I prepared myself to start the reframing. At times I had good flow, but often a tricky rocky section or a corner that I didn’t want to risk injuring the ankle would pop up and I had to unclip. Rather than getting mad or annoyed, I sat there and EVERY time I had to slow, brake or unclip - I told myself “Look at you girl, good job protecting your ankle.” Then every time I cleared something that was techy or I executed a section fast, I would repeat in my mind (or sometimes verbally) a little “yippie” or “yee-haw.” It added to the fun and it also avoided me being self critical. What I have learned with mountain biking is this - to find your flow you need to keep it fun. If you are self critical or annoyed with how you are riding, you will not be in tune with your body and you just won’t ride as well. Seems simple, but it’s actually hard to execute this as you are learning (and highly competitive or impatient for improvements). I honestly have to credit my skills coach Anneke for fostering this with the work we did all winter. And for Trek who suggested working with her if I wanted to pursue improvements and supported me in this too. 

So I got through that 2hr death march in the middle and it was hard. But I exited that section and still had fun. It was grueling, no doubt and I hiked my bike way more than I have in any other bike race. Would I do it again….probably. So after this section, you still have over 40 miles of gravel with plenty of climbing and still 2 more sections of single track to go. Thankfully, I still had John with me and we continued to motor through the gravel after we stopped at the aid station and refilled bottles. I also think this may be one of my first times in the last 2 years I actually stopped at an aid station mid-race. It was somewhat refreshing, but also stressful if I am being honest. Makes me appreciate all the people involved giving hand ups to riders! The last section was about mitigating heat stress with proper pacing and honestly, just getting to the finish line. I assumed that the gap to Crystal and Anna was massive since that long section in the middle was so long but I heard a time gap of only 3 minutes to Anna and I was stoked to hear that. Honestly, I had not expected to podium here given my race plan and the course. So for me, the day was already a win as I approached the finish line in good spirits knowing if I kept the last section smooth I would likely snag a podium and that the ankle was still holding up unscathed. Additionally, I just had so much fun throughout the course of the day, the result was nice but I already felt satisfied and content in many ways, and knowing I had met all my goals. We rolled into the finish line to the creek crossing with crowds and I was just jazzed to see everyone out there having a good time. What a cool event. What a beautiful course to ride a bike. What a cool community. This is Rule of Three - you should join next year! 

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