Great 80 Recap
The event was a success. Five teams of five riders each decided to be pioneers for this inaugural event with a group of people that have never organized a bike race before. The race was a true test of how well your team worked together and played to their strengths. The post-race vibe was charged with tired bodies, a fantastic lunch, and a deep sense of joy and accomplishment.
The morning started off with cloudy skies as the sun came up. The volunteers, the first riders, and Utopian Coffee all arrive right around 7:30a. The riders got ready, we got the event unpacked & setup, and Utopian began brewing the necessary boost of caffeine by providing their delicious coffee. By 8:15a, all teams had arrived and we transitioned into the pavilion for a pre-race meeting where we got to share about the work we do every day at NeighborLink and go over event & route specifics.
The reality set in for riders as they began to look over their route cards and come to a full realization that there were no maps and no on course markings to guide them. This was truly going to be an adventure on two wheels. You could see those that are detail oriented perk up, ask lots of questions, and take ownership of route. Just as the meeting was getting going, the rain began and continued into a downpour. At that point, anxiety took over and the decision to ride, postpone or call it was pressing in on me. Having never done a race like this, I relied on the fact that this event was originally going to be called the Epic 80, the rain was added just enough extra challenge, and that all of these riders are comfortable making the decision they felt was necessary to continue in the race. Each of them were reminded to ride safe and pull out if it got beyond their comfort level.
After a quick prayer for safety, the first team was ready to roll just after 8:30a. Blazing Saddles was the first team to roll out followed by Team NeighborLink and the remaining members of Lionheart Racing, who had two members decide the rain was more than they were interested in riding in (I don't blame them). Up next was a fast team made up of riders from various teams in Fort Wayne who combined letters from all their names and called themselves Jomama Debeth. Last to leave right about 8:55a was AeroCat High Performance Bicycles. It must be said that none of the AeroCat team members were from Allen County and had never ridden these roads. They were at a disadvantage right from the beginning as each of the other teams had local knowledge that could at least help them head in the right direction if ever off course. AeroCat had to rely heavily on their team, the route card, and the trusty iPhone GPS.
By checkpoint one (mile 18) all the teams had become adjusted to the pouring rain and were finding their pace, except AeroCat who had two flats within a hundred yards of each other. But, by checkpoint one they were rolling and making up time. We were out on the course checking in with the teams and taking photos as we passed all but one of the teams by checkpoint 2. Everyone we passed were in good spirits and were actually having fun. I was nervous for all the teams as I imagined them out riding through the rain and on the open course.
Checkpoint 2 (mile 37) saw all the teams cruise by again. By this time the pouring rain slowed to a mist and would stay away for the remaining distance of the ride, allowing members to dry out a bit. AeroCat had come from last place to leap frog the Team NeighborLink and Lionheart Racing teams and close the gap on the Blazing Saddles team. By this point, all teams were settled into the beautiful roads of NE and NW Allen County. The changing leaves really made things incredible.
As the teams pressed on, the NL volunteers proceeded to get the post-ride lunch prepped and setup back at the park. NL Volunteers were also patiently waiting at Checkpoint 3 (mile 70) for the teams to roll through. About noon, I back tracked the course to get some more photos and before I could even get to checkpoint 3, I saw the first team close in on the last 10 miles of the race. This team was riding extremely hard and at one point where they passed me, they were up over 25mph at mile 75 or so. They kept a pace over over 21mph for the entire ride and ended the race with a time of 3:59.
Just about the only thing that did not go to plan was the fact that I missed a turn on the route card just before the 3rd Checkpoint on Aboite Rd. The riders came across HWY 24 and were to make the first right turn onto Aboite, and I left that turn off forcing riders to go straight which takes them back to HWY 24 within less than a mile. Most teams figured it out because they knew the roads or accessed their map to get to the next section of road. AeroCat missed that turn and continued on to HWY 24 which took them down to Homestead Rd, which they turned right on and looped back to the Checkpoint. Rather than back track again to stay on the route, they went back to HWY 24 and rode it back to the park, which saved them many miles and finished in 2nd place. The race rules only said you had to hit all three checkpoints and complete at least 80 miles, which they did. Had they not had the early flat tires and been led astray, they would have put the pressure on the 1st place team.
The apprehensive faces at the beginning of the race turned into faces of joy and fatigue by the end. I heard more than one share how glad they were done but how much fun it was. The rain ended up not being a big deal to everyone and added that extra little bit of challenge. The only bad section of road was a 4 mile section in NE Allen County that is frequented by Amish buggies. You can imagine wet, manure filled roads and pace lines full of tire spray.
We finished the race by enjoying a hot lunch of chicken, pork chops, baked potato bar, and plenty of homemade desserts prepared by NL volunteers. We knew that we wanted to reward our riders with more than hot dogs and hamburgers after taking on such a big ride. The winning team received two golden Team NL bottles each, and other teams took away Dicks Sporting Goods gift certificates, Utopian Coffee, Aunt Lora's Caramels, and Team NL dri-fit running shirts.
A special thanks to the winning team, Jomama Debeth, for donating their $150 ($30 per rider) registration reward back to NL. Thank you to all the riders who made this event special, the volunteers who support my crazy ideas, and for the sponsors who made this event feel like we all got way more than we gave to participate.
I honestly was hoping for more than five teams before the race, but as the day came and I reflect on the event, this was the exact turnout that we needed. No more, no less. The riders who rode this race are a lot alike in spirit as our regular volunteers. They are willing to do what others won't, take a risk on something beyond themselves, do it in community rather than on their own, and are willing to deal with a bit of suffering along the way. For that reason alone, this event was a greater success than I could have imagined.
Until next year.
Andrew Hoffman, Executive Director.
ps.... Please leave a comment or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) any event feedback you have if you participated in the event. We are very open to feedback that encourages us to keep things the same and things that we could improve on. Without your feedback, we won't know whether we're heading in the right direction or not.
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