Race Report: Chequamegon 40 - Mandi Hibbert

September 20, 2022

  • Congrats on completing your first Chequamegon 40! Last year you won the Short and Fat and made the decision to compete in the 40 for this year. What was the thought process and inspiration behind that decision?
    The Short and Fat last year was the perfect race to me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to replicate the feeling of joy and satisfaction I had winning that race. After racing the 16 for so many years, the win felt like the end of a chapter. I was torn because I didn’t feel driven to race the 16 again but the 40 remained intimidating. It would be the longest race I’ve ever done and the start scared me. It took me a couple months to decide to do the 40. Even after signing-up, I second-guessed my decision many times.
  • What was your training approach for this year?
    I’m all-in. I’ve been working with a cycling coach the last two years. We’ve built a good relationship and I trust her. I’ve always been an active person but never had true fitness, especially endurance fitness. It’s new to me and it’s been a slow build. This past summer things really started to shift and I finally found my groove with training and recovery. I typically ride five or six days a week – a couple days of intervals, at least one 1.5-hour aerobic ride and one longer ride ranging from two to four hours. I add in strength training at different times of the year too. I’m learning my body needs a lot of recovery so I focus on good sleep and do yoga and mobility work daily. I’m absolutely fascinated by performance and nutrition. It’s been a fun process and feels like I’m just getting started!
  • So how did the race go! Can you fill us in how the start was, mid race and end of race shake down?
    It was unlike anything I could’ve imagined!
    Getting through the start without incident was one of my top goals. I had been nervous about the pavement rollout for months but once the race got going, I felt surprisingly calm. I made it Rosie’s Field safely then promptly dropped my water bottle. I was gutted! I wanted to stop but knew the risk was high of getting hit or causing an issue for another rider. My next bottle wouldn’t be until OO, at mile 17. I had to recalibrate my race strategy. It was warm and humid so riding full gas without fluids nearly half the race could be a disaster. I kept my pace in a comfortable aerobic zone. Never pushing too hard. It felt like the race was slipping away from me. It was hard to stay positive.
    I stopped at the first aid station to slam two cups of water. I knew my bottle wouldn’t be far ahead but couldn’t pass the opportunity to take on fluids. I was so relieved to see (and hear) my friend John with my bottle! I stopped again to drink part of an extra bottle I sent with him, took a full bottle with me and felt like I could finally start my race! A few words of encouragement from John, coupled with the lively crowd at OO, completely reset my mood. I was riding high and started making passes. Then, the rain came. And it wasn’t just rain. It was a full-on downpour. It got dark and everything slowed down. It was an eerie feeling and I didn’t know what to think. The group I was riding with started to hit the brakes and I heard people yelling about a down rider with a broken collarbone. That was hard to see and made me recalibrate again. It no longer felt like a race but rather an adventure ride I needed to safely navigate.
    The rain eventually let up but the damage was done. The course was a muddy mess. I have very little experience riding in mud but knew I needed to focus on a few things – keeping constant pressure on the pedals, riding with momentum, being smart with line choices and gentle with shifting to prevent a mechanical failure. It worked! I just kept rolling and found myself having an absolute blast. At one point I hollered out loud, “Now this is a real mountain bike race!”. Riders around me probably thought I was nuts. I was giggling while bombing down hills and sliding around corners. John met me at the top of the Seeley climb and again at the end of Birkie climbs with more bottles and encouragement. It was super fun to have a friend on course supporting me!
    I wanted to finish the race riding hard. It’s the way I pre-rode the course in August and there’s something really satisfying about ending a race full gas. I hit the last long section of gravel all alone, put my head down and pedaled as hard as I could. It felt like I was flying. I didn’t get to use the drafting skills I’d been working on all summer but found myself in a familiar place. I ride gravel alone often and enjoy it. It was cool to know there were over a thousand riders on course and here I was, all alone, riding my heart out.
    Fatigue finally set-in and set-in hard with a couple miles to go. I was ready to see the finish knowing I had done everything I could to ride a smart, safe race.
  • With such a large group there always seems to be something special that happens. Anything unusual or memorable happen for you during the race?
    I really enjoyed the short conversations I got to share with riders during the race. When we were moving slowly, it opened the opportunity to make small connections. While walking up the Seeley fire tower climb, I found myself next to a teenage boy. I said something along the lines, “Well, this isn’t what I imagined it’d be!” He responded in a deflated tone, “Yeah, me neither.” I could tell he was miserable. After a couple more exchanges, we made the realization it was both our first 40 and shared some laughs. He lightened up and I hope he had a good experience out there. Racing is supposed to be fun!
  • How did the conditions affect the racing? Did you do anything special with your bike?
    The rain changed everything! I knew there was a possibility for rain but didn’t think it’d turn into the mud fest that it did. I didn’t change anything on my bike pre-race but did carry more gels, just in case, and sent an extra pair of glasses and bottle with John. I never took the glasses and we joked that maybe it was for the best that I couldn’t see everything. At one point, I heard someone on the side of the trail with a cowbell cheering. I laughed and told them, “I can hear you but can’t see you!” I never took off my glasses out of fear of getting dirt in my eyes. I focused on being really gentle with my shifting and listened closely for things getting too noisy. There was someone hosing off drivetrains at the top of the Birkie climbs which was cool but I kept rolling because everything was working okay. My brakes got less and less responsive so I kept that in mind too.
  • Having completed your first 40, what are you plans for the future?
    Keep training! I’m fired-up. I typically only do XC and Cheq but these longer races have me really intrigued. I’ll for sure be back for the Cheq 40 and can’t wait to apply everything I learned from this year. I’d like to do the Lutsen 99er too. Not sure on the distance. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy fall riding, do my first century ride and give Cyclocross a try!
  • Any advice for riders jumping from the Short and Fat to the Forty?
    Go for it! Keep an open mind. If it feels out of reach, think of it as an experience rather than a race. The 40 has a wide variety of riders in it. There’s a place for you!
  • Anything else you would like to add about the event or weekend?
    Chequamegon is my favorite weekend of the year. John Sandberg, who did race support for my husband and I, got us into the event over ten years ago. His family pulled us into their mountain bike gang and now they’ve all become good friends of ours too. We always stay at the Hayward KOA together and share meals, racing stories and countless laughs. It’s loads of fun.
    I went into the race super focused and driven for a strong finish. Dropping my bottle and the rain reminded me how quickly things can change. It was not the race I imagined. Not the race I thought I was training for. In the end, I was able to execute so many things I’ve been working on – staying calm, making smart decisions and having fun. I feel satisfied knowing I learned so much and, ultimately, had a really good time. I can’t wait for next year!