After 7 months of structured training, this week I started at the Race Around Austria Challenge SOLO. 560km, 6500HM, through heat and storm, through day and night, through thick and thin. But stop, we start in the days before.
The day before the race
Until we sat in the car in the direction of St. Georgen im Attergau, I was actually not nervous at all. Too much to do, too much to organize, too little time, but somehow everything worked out. I already underestimated the race in terms of the organization effort – because I actually thought before, I was well prepared!
Nope. But at some point, all the equipment, wheels and lights were in the cars and we set off. Arrived in St. Georgen im Attergau, we moved into our hotel, the Attergauhof. The bikes came up to our room, we had lunch with Martin and Michi and I became more and more silent. While everyone was exchanging their route know-how, joking around and discussing all sorts of eventualities, my room gradually became more and more crowded. And it was to stay that way until I rolled down the start ramp… Uh, I mean, pushed down the ramp. But I’ll get to that.
Next, I collected my start box, which contained more stickers for my pace car and start numbers for bike and helmet. Slowly I got a little space problem not only at the bike but also at the support vehicle. But Aurel and Philipp took exemplary care that everything landed in the right place, and then Philipp installed the absolute highlight: the week before, he and a friend had made THE light bar par excellence. This part not only looked stylish, but is also absolutely waterproof (believe me, we were allowed to test it during the race.) and can be controlled from the inside. The Must-Have for the ultra rider of the world. They even wrote 1900 lines of code.
In the regulations and the Pre Race Meeting some tricky things have already been explained: ideally, an overtaking manoeuvre should be such that the front pace car gives way to the cyclist so that he can pass on the right. Then he passes the overtaken cyclist on the left. The pace car of the overtaking cyclist then passes the other pace car on the left. But this was not the only important rule – I can only recommend every future team to read the rules very carefully. Many have implemented this in an exemplary manner, others just overtook me over the ditch or made a distinctive stop on the road in the middle of the night. But as the saying goes: there are always a few candidates.
Back to the preparation: the technical check of bikes and pace car was slimmed down this year. My very first racing bike, the BMC Roadmachine 02 was ready, with its mountain-friendly gear ratio of 34/32 as the lightest gear in the trunk, all the necessary sticker on the pace car were glued on and so Aurel, Michi and I had a little prep ride on the Orbea. The last time driving in the slipstream… The last structured training for this year… And finally the band that had been wrapped around my chest during the last days came off. I sat well on the bike; pedaling was fine; uphill, I could stay in my recommended power zones.
The last dinner before the race quickly brought me back to my silent state and I was very grateful when I was finally heading for bed. There I slept like a baby until the church bells woke me at 6 and 8. Somehow I managed to doze for another 1.5 hours and after breakfast we wanted to pair the intercom. I had been allowed to borrow them from a very nice friend of state champion Anna Bachmann. Originally a motorcycle radio, he had adapted it in such a way that – according to the theory – it guarantees hands-free communication between driver and pace car over one kilometre. But it would be all too easy if it actually worked like that. Apparently, during my test at home, a contact in the microphone was already or got interrupted – and a headset microphone was not accepted by the system as a replacement. A call to the dealer in Salzburg regarding a replacement microphone unfortunately didn’t bring any relief either, he didn’t have the part in stock. For this, St. Georgen could score with its local centre: not everything is extinct and dead here, as you can see around Vienna, but the local Expert-shop offered us its help. He didn’t have a spare mic in stock, but he could solder a new connection to the two cables between adapter and mic. I didn’t even have to pay anything for it, he just wished me good luck for the upcoming race. So that was also checked off. My nerves were further strained when the naked noodles didn’t want to come at the team lunch, but then I helped myself to the side dishes of all the others and then it was already time to change into the race outfit.
Due to the scorchingly hot 34 degrees I decided to wear my Assos Dyora Bib, an X-Bionic baselayer, my personalized Decca jersey, black socks and my really well ventilated Fizik Powerstrap R2 Aeroweave shoes. As a little lucky charm I also got the gloves from the Giro d’Italia and two bottles full of Maurten Drink Mix and water, which I wanted to drink until the start in 1 hour. This worked only conditionally, because until I was on stage, we all wore masks in the waiting area.
What I said on stage I don’t remember exactly, I asked the moderator Olli to prepare a cold beer for me at the finish and then it started. Start the Garmin Edge 1030 Plus uuuand damn. I was not in the pedal when I already navigated around the narrow fountain towards the ramp. But so what, I understand that such a ramp is worth something when you fight for every second in a time trial, but that’s not what today was about for me. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by hitting myself on the floor in front of an audience, so I just pushed my bike down and started pedalling. And bam, I was gone, my pace car, which still had to collect the photographer Daniel Willinger, didn’t see me anymore. But then I heard the first cracking noise in the intercom, the car was behind me and the torture could start.
A few days before the race the last performance diagnostics at WeSports were on the agenda. This was not carried out to full capacity, it was only about looking at the actual level of fat metabolism and thus determining the exact performance zones in which I should move in order to finish. My VO2Max has decreased minimally due to the many basic and volume training sessions I did in the weeks before, but my fat metabolism was running like a freshly oiled engine. I can pedal up to 160 watts while my body gets its energy purely from the fat reserves, in the mountains I am still on the safe side with 180 watts. Please do not nail me down if I have not paraphrased this scientifically correct. In any case, this is exactly what my coach Andy and I had worked for, and so I set power alarms on my Garmin. If I should go out of the recommended watt range, he kindly reminded me that my power is too high.
I started directly with two hills on which the whole women’s field overtook met. Of course, this hurt a little bit for a short time, but I wanted to finish the race and stay on the safe side of my pacing strategy. And that meant not to ride too right from the start. It was also very warm and because of the initial nervousness, my heart rate didn’t quite fit with 170 beats. I grumbled into the intercom that I would try to catch up with everyone without a TT bar, but not right now.
At a traffic light in Straßwalchen the women’s field slipped a bit, but in Lengau we got lost for the first time and so there was a big gap between us. Why lost our way? That should still haunt us a bit, because: the routes are only available in 5 single GPX tracks, which I synchronized with my Garmin via Komoot. Either Komoot or Garmin then sent me over and over again during the whole ride via “bike-friendly routes” instead of the official track. But after a last request to look into the roadbook, we were back on the track.
What followed was the somewhat monotonous, but also beautiful Innviertel. Here it actually looks like around Tulln. Flat, corn fields, light headwind. But also great streets, in general really suitable to my rider profile! Up to Schärding it went on like this and I had a lot of fun. Arrived in Schärding there was a short 16% ramp, but nothing too bad. Then it went already in the direction of Passau and the Danube and we stopped the first time longer (before that there was already a pee stop. 1.5 liters before the start made itself felt).
Now it was time to mount the lights and the pace car was not allowed to leave behind me. For Daniel this meant that he could take a deep breath, because the motif of a cyclist’s rear end exhausts itself at some point. Without further ado he became the support team and helped to fill my pockets with gels and bars again. At that time (120km) I still had a 26kph average on the Garmin, which is a value I am satisfied with for a ride in the length and with already more altitude meters than I usually have in front of my door. I wanted to be near Passau by sunset, but it was only a matter of a few minutes that I was lagging behind. Here I changed into my long jersey and put on a vest.
Loaded with Garmin Varia in front and Cateye Volt 800 on the helmet and the light cone of the pace car behind me, we raced along the Danube, where the sun slowly but surely set. Really a picturesque route! At some point the Danube bridge Niederrana lay with us and I knew that after that the eternal up and down would start. On the first ascent there was a lot going on, we passed several teams who were just having a break. Philipp announced through the radio that two of the ladies had already given up. This meant that I was now in the second last place, but it didn’t matter at that moment. I didn’t know what it was like to ride through the whole night and the whole following day and had heard such horror stories about the Mühlviertel. So again the reminder to myself, not to exaggerate. Although, that would have made the job easier for my poor drivers. They always breathed a sigh of relief when they could engage the first gear on the mountain.
There wasn’t much to see here, but I was nervous and tense all over my body, because I had already had several “deer-run-into-me-on-the-descend” nightmares before. I’m sure the Mühlviertel is very beautiful, but unfortunately I didn’t have much of it on my bike and the km count on my Garmin didn’t want to go any further. Every downhill was followed by a counter ascent and it was quite stressful for the support team with the constant overtaking manoeuvres of the team riders. But the RAA challenge is probably THE highlight here in the region: in every village there were people sitting around cheering you on. Sometimes there were only 3-4 in the camping chair, sometimes they even brought a power generator for the right music. That made it at least very entertaining. At half past one, after 228 km, the first Voltaren leg massage. And from now on we were in new territory: my longest ride before had been the Stelvio stage of the Tour de Friends with 210 km.
Summary Mühlviertel: it dragged on, but it was not as bad as expected. I still had a 24 kph avg afterwards, but the breaks at night got a little longer. In Freistadt “the worst” was over, but for the first time my body reported that it was now tired and that he could actually go to sleep. I lay down on the back seat and rested, chewing on a bun, but I didn’t really want to doze off. Then Martin came around the corner, who had put a Powernap in a bus shelter, and was supplied with fresh water by us. A few minutes after he had left, it started again for me, too, and soon after that, I was wide awake again! In fresh trousers, my SaKO7 Bib, and with lots of Chamois-Cream, I rushed along – or at least it felt that way to me.
In the meantime I can’t remember the track so well. There was a small dip about 30-40 kilometers further, put it on the backseat again, shot an Ensure and then turned onto the next hill. There was not much going on here, we saw the same unsupported athleete cursing with his wooden bike over and over again, but we couldn’t help him either.
In Steyr, after 350km, I waved the pace car to an open gas station and asked Aurel to get us all a coffee. It instantly burned my mouth. Another bun afterwards tasted rather restrained. But because I saw that another female athlete was having a break on the other side, I rounded up the team again and we set off. The B115 Phyrrnstraße, if I am not completely wrong, called, went up and down all the time. Since it was only straight ahead, I could give the intercom out of my ear and listen to some music. Now it was my turn to play my “Rock” playlist, which gave me a little bit of a change of mind. There was also more traffic on the road again. How late was it actually? What are the people doing there? Oh, working. But I was working too. One leg up, one leg down. Keep going, keep going. Sending the car in front, taking pictures, cursing myself after a stupid truck maneuver because they sent the car in front… Diclofenac plaster on the back of the neck. The pain in my shoulders wasn’t bad yet, but I didn’t wanted it to get worse. Josh had already predicted that my shoulder would be my weak point when I was bike-fitting at Veletage.
This piece of the route should come to an end, and the heat also made itself felt again. So it was no longer morning, but went towards noon when I turned into the Hengstpass. A beautiful climb in a picturesque valley. 20km with a 3% gradient, a dream for me, if there hadn’t been these damned temperatures. Not much came out of my legs and it was harder and harder for me to drink enough. My Garmin stated 39 degrees celsius. Completely crazy. The skilful ultra riders make sure that such a piece is history already in the morning hours. But I am not a skilful ultra rider and without further ado I was put into the standing pace car, the air conditioning was turned up full blast and I got cold towels on my legs and head. After 5 minutes everything was okay again. The Hengstpass gets a bit steeper for the last 1,5km, not bad, but with 400km in the legs it is not fun. In my right ear I had not the intercom, but my motivational playlist, and somehow an empty gel in my pocket called my family in Vienna. They were surprised of course, but it was also kind of funny. We drove past a pace car where the support team and rider took a nap. We almost lay down to take a nap with them, but only almost.
At least the downhill was cool, but not long either, because: I could only run up to a 3% gradient, everything below that had to be accompanied by heavy pedaling. Where did this wind come from again? It should accompany me until the finish, always from the front. I was looking forward to free kilometers after every ascent!
We reached Windischgarsten half an hour before the time limit, but far behind the time I would have thought to need. And now my knee reported pain. Bad pain. Memories of the Cap Formentor, that I climbed 2 years ago with a really nasty inflamed knee, shot up, and I knew, from now on it will only go downwards. At least I knew before the start that from a certain KM number some parts of the body would not be so happy. And my head had already adjusted to it in such a way that it drastically aggravated the pain once again. Every 10 minutes the zones that hurt the most changed, which kind of also brought variety in the ride. I cried quietly so that nobody in the intercom could hear how bad I really felt, because there are also nices moments for my partner and family.
But now the mountains got even worse. Well, you have to say that my route description with “After the Hengstpass – 4 more hills, one of them with 220hm” was slightly understated for what lay ahead of me. That things always look easy in front of the computer was something I had noted in big letters at the latest on my trip home from Afflenz 1.5 months ago. Pardon the expression, but that was just one fuckery chasing the other – at least for me. In contrast to my meanwhile really bad shape, my support crew was in a good mood and lived up to the name “Support”. “Nice pedaling Nora, still very round!” I looked at my Garmin: my left leg could only do 30% of the work, and if I didn’t get out of the saddle, there was a maximum of about 120 watts on the computer. At the Ziehberg, support was waiting for me again, I was very happy, but couldn’t really show it anymore. After ??? kilometers we stopped at a gas station again, and now I wanted to know: I asked Aurel for a salami sandwich. And it tasted fantastic! I could go on wailing here, but let’s jump.
To Gmunden. To the parking lot. Where we stopped, so I could put the helmet with the radio in the car and put a jacket on. Because as already announced the whole day, we finally drove into the storm that was building up in front of us. After all: I hardly noticed the side gusts of up to 50 km/h with my Bikebeat wheels. But very well the ever increasing drops. The sleeper from the Hengstpass and his team had caught up with us again and while passing by he asked us why us Ösis had prepared this weather. I shrugged my shoulders apologetically and said with my most German accent that I was not from here either. The Garmin showed that now would have been my target time. W h a t e v e r .
From kilometer marker 500 on, I was fed up with this race. The water flowed over the road in streams, I rode in serpentines up what for me was the hardest mountain, the Kronberg, and let myself down the mountains in (for me) dizzying speed of 57 km/h in pouring rain along the oil tracks. In retrospect, my team said that they doubted my mental condition for a moment. In fact, I also questioned my mental condition. But in the moment I registered for this race.
And then at some point the Attersee opened up before us. From here on I knew the route, yay! And it really wasn’t far anymore – for normal standards. For someone who has been in the saddle for over 24 hours, it was still very, very far. The oncoming drivers tried to drive as good as possible outside the ruts, but at the bus at the latest I got a really big load of water with road dirt on myself, which I’m still washing out of my ears now, several days later. The rain got heavier again, after the race we learned that the fire brigade had to go out several times because of it. Mondsee, 545km. Finally the long awaited turn, I knew we still had to pass two villages and then I was actually already finished. I was able to pedal a bit harder and the people at the roadside who were cheering for me didn’t care about the rain.
Then I saw them: on the left of the road, two motorcycles were waiting for me and escorted me the last kilometers to the finish. Behind every bend I expected the place-name sign of St. Georgen that stopped the time keeping. I finished after 27 hours and 26 minutes continuously on the bike. And behold, suddenly there was not a bit of pain left. The torture was a product of the night before. My team cheered and we fell into each other’s arms. Michi waited at the finish line and patted me on the shoulders. At the “rescue station”, before we went on stage, there was some ice-cold apple juice and I was told to push the bike back on stage, because the carpet on the ramp was extremely slippery due to the rain. Yes, I didn’t let them tell me that twice!
I can’t quite remember what I said to Olli on stage, only that I almost left the trophy standing. Here is the video.
My nutrition during the race
I discussed in the performance diagnostics beforehand how much carbohydrates and water I should consume. I generally like to eat gels and dont really enjoy sugary drinks, but everyone is different. Maurten, as my sponsor, is something my stomach is used to every situation. Stephan from WeSports supported me additionally with the gels from Winforce. Also, I just got bars from Clifbar to test, which I love, but I don’t afford them for myself on a regular basis. What I prepared at home was a candy box full of everything I could get hungry on. On the Garmin I set an alarm every 300 calories and a drinking alarm every half hour. And in the first half it was working out perfectly, I had always just taken a snack or a drink when the alarm bleeped. In the night, I also had to fight with nausea for a short time, but it wasn’t too bad and went away. It was probably just the exhaustion. In the second half I got worse at regular eating and drinking, but from a performance side of view, I stayed exclusively in the fat metabolism area.
About 10 bottles of water
5 bottles of Maurten 160
4 bottles High5 Zero Electrolytes
8 Maurten Gels Classic
3 Maurten gels caffeine
7 Winforce Gels
2 Salty Peanut Bars
Handful of Haribo
Fistful of Soletti
3 bottles of Gatorade
2 bottles of apple juice
1 sip of gruesome cola energy limo
1 sip of boiling hot coffee and later a cup of cold coffee
2 naked buns
1 Salami roll
I wore personalized my jersey via Decca Sportswear, it was very comfortable and breathable, but due to all the training I should have opted for a size smaller by now. That’s why the mobile phone is a bit loose on normal rides. But for the race it didn’t matter, because: I stored full and empty gels in my side pockets, the mobile phone was in the middle. Underneath I wore an X-Bionic baselayer without sleeves all the time. Yep, during the whole race. Nope, not smelly at all. I shot this one the other day in the sale and it quickly became my absolute favourite because it regulates the sweat so well. At night I rode with a long SaKO7 jersey and their Coolth Gear vest. My helmet Lazer Genesis is ultra light and had enough openings to fix intercom and helmet light. It is also top ventilated. If there would have been many insects on the way, I would have put my new Illimité Caps under it, but that was not necessary. For the first 12 hours I rode with the new Assos Dyora Bib, which I like very much, because it fits very well and the new Assos ladies pad is the absolute burner. It tapers very quickly and chafes less than many others. After 12 hours I changed into my SaKO7 Bib, since 2 years my Go-To-Pants for everything that gets hard. That was good, because after some time the pads are simply full of salt from all the sweat, and you can counteract skin irritations. In addition there was the classic Assos Chamois Cream for my sensitive bottom. All in all I am very happy with this combination, I have light Saddle Sores, but not worse than after a 100 km ride – and I just sat the last 2 hours completely in the wet because it was raining so much. That is of course always problematic. Finally I needed my Isadore rain jacket and because it got really cold on the desdends in the rain, I slipped into my Percy Mash winter jacket aswell.
As for the shoes I changed between Fizik Vento Powerstrap R2 Aerowave (for hot weather and rain) and Fizik Tempo Overcure R4 (for nights when it was cold). Also here I’m absolutely happy.
Now, lets speak about light: I chose a Garmin Varia with a Cateye Volt 800 helmet lamp, so that I can see in curves. In the back as always my Lezyne Strip-Drive, and I am also completely happy with that. A small tip: pair the Garmin Varia with the Garmin at home to ensure the best illumination and battery performance.
As you have just read out, I drove the race with the Garmin Edge 1030 Plus. The main reason for this was the communication with the lights and my power meter and the battery power of 24 hours. At the finish line, after almost 28 hours, I still had 20 percent battery over, without recharging at all. The Garmin ran continuously with navigation and all sensors. This is definitely absolutely top class, but more about that soon.
My bike that I rode the whole race on (at first I thought I would maybe change on the BMC for the mountains, but then, I didn’t want to loose any time on that) is the Orbea Orca Aero from 2018, equipped with the Bikebeat wheelset Überflieger Pro. It only weighed 8.3kg before the race, which is a respectable figure for an Ultegra Aero bike.
On the wheels Conti GP5000 Tour de France Limited Edition were mounted as clincher, because the wheels with 25mm tyres offer the best aerodynamic advantage and I simply trust the excellent puncture resistance of the Conti tyres the most.
Transparency: the mentioned products were partly provided for free. I am not paid to use them.
So, what about this whole mental stuff?
As everyone has told me before, it is incredibly important to be in contact with the team. On the one hand to navigate, on the other hand to have a simple conversation. So most of the time I had the intercom connection in my right ear, the outer ear seen from the road. Theoretically it should also be possible to listen to music over the radio, but I didn’t pay enough attention to it beforehand how to use this kind of things and so I listened to music via headphones from my mobile from time to time. Altogether I listened to 3 playlists, so about 3 hours. That brought some change and variety in times I needed extra distraction. Actually I also wanted to listen to the “Zeit – Verbrechen” Podcast, but that was too tedious for me. Also, to be honest, I have no self control and already listened to most of the pieces I wanted to keep for the race beforehand…
If somebody says, such a race is a matter of mind, he is probably right. But maybe you are like me: I don’t know what to do with the buzzword “head thing” and “you have to be mentally strong”. I love cycling and I love to discover new areas on the bike. This race was both for a long time. Its what I do in nearly every free second so I don’t need to much motivation from external sources. But sometimes, it can be good! I distracted myself with my popular “fauna, garbage or roadkill” game, amused myself with place names (some of them were called “village”, “fourteen”, …) or set myself small goals (“You must have Y kilometers within X minutes”). Again and again I wiped through the ClimbPro function on my Garmin and watched the coming climbs. In my head I already formulated this blog post. I imagined how it would be to arrive at the finish. But to be honest, at soooome times I thought back and forth about excuses to stop the whole thing, but I couldn’t think of any good ones. So yes, I thought about quitting, but not really. It was always 3-4 minutes, in which I simply said to myself: “Well, you’ll drive until this point over there and then we’ll see.” But by the time I got to that point, everything was fine.
My support crew
I had already told them that it would be exhausting and they would get very little sleep, but that it would be so hard, we had not expected that. While one of them was driving the pace car – and slowly gets cramps in his calf from the clutch – the other one has to navigate continuously and talk to me on the intercom. This actually also includes someone who prepares the equipment and food for me, and, to illustrate this and many other articles, of course a photographer. I am so happy that I had my team with me, because I honestly would not have finished it alone. Every single one of them did a great job and can be at least as proud of themselves as I am of myself! If somebody (or me) asks you if you want to be a support for a race like this soon, be prepared for it to be really hard. But also that you might be the crucial part so that someone else can make their dream come true.
But my team for the Race Around Austria Challenge did not only consist of the support crew during the race, but also of many companies that made it easier for me.
A very big thank you goes to my sports-loving boss Thomas from the Factory. Not only was I allowed to be quite flexible with my working hours in order to find enough time for training, he also often provided the equipment to take pictures and film on the training rides. I could not have wished for a better supporter for such a project.
Also to STAR BIKE, my bike shop in the 2nd district. They serviced my bikes before the race, always had an open ear for me and I was allowed to use their car as pace car. The service was so good that the bike had no problem at all during the race. Over 560km no cracking noise at all. And they are simply a great team, which I can call friends after this challenge.
To the Ultra Rad Challenge in Kaindorf and to Anja, with whom I coul do some training rides in the time before. Actually Kaindorf was planned as a training race before the RAA, but due to Corona the date slid into my tapering phase. But as they say: postponed is not cancelled and so I’m already looking forward to 2021. Again I found not only a sponsor but also friends.
Thanks also go to Andy from Geradeaus.at, with whom I talked on the phone every week for 7 months and who wrote me my training plans. Only thanks to him I was physically able to finish this race. And thanks to their great blog posts I was able to prepare myself a bit in advance for what I had to expect during the race.
The organization of Race Around Austria
Here I can only applaud, everything was top organized, despite or even with all the Corona regulations. The route is tough, but leads over very good roads, the team is incredibly friendly, helpful and professional. The only downside for me are the 5 tracks, which are shared via a portal where you have to create an extra account. Then at least choose one that many starters already use anyway. But all in all it’s always like coming into a big family, especially since last year I was allowed to participate in the finish of the Extreme track. And this family is happy to accept new members, if you are ready for the RAA Challenge 2021! The whole town is pulsating, usually there is a big festival at race time, and the fans at the track are absolutely amazing and will leave you with goosebumps in the middle of the night.
So, whats next?
I wouldn’t say “never again”, but not for a while. It takes a lot of organisation to do something like that, especially in the run-up to the event, and my great passion is neither riding uphill nor cycling very far. I prefer to push really hard on a flat track for a short time. I can unreservedly recommend participation to anyone who is thinking about it now, but I can also warn against underestimating the race or the track. After 3 years on the road bike it was a real challenge for me (haha, I should have known by the name!). But I could also imagine that racing as a team is a good way to be faster at arriving for the finisher beer.