Caroline Soong took a few minutes out of her recovery time for a short Q&A about her Tour Divide preparation and experience. Her answers are below:
When did you decide to enter the Tour Divide? I finally decided to race the Tour Divide while on a backpacking trip with my boyfriend Kurt last fall. It must have been 11pm at night while we were still hiking and he asked again if I would want to race it. Kurt raced it in 2009 and was also planning on racing it in 2011 so he had brought up the idea a few times. Maybe it was because it was late or I was tired but something about that night made me excited about the race and I said, “Yes”. “Yes” to spending a month pedaling across the country, seeing country and doing something that seemed so out of reach at that time.
How did you prepare? For such as long race I did lots of long rides. During the work week I rode between 2-4 hours a day but the weekends is where I put in the long hours. For instance during the winter months on Saturday I would ride 8-12 hours and Sunday would be 5-6 hours. The Divide has lots of climbing so my routes would include lots of climbs and preferably be on dirt. About two months out from the race I started doing bikepacking trips on the weekend that included all my race gear so I could get used to the extra weight. I kept limber by going to yoga a few times a week and ran once a week.
Can you talk a little about the equipment you used to get through the Tour Divide? The Tour Divide is a self supported bike race so you have to carry all your own sleeping gear, clothes, tools, food and water. Gear selection is important because it needs to last 2,700 plus miles. My bike of choice was the Blue Competition XC2 that handled perfectly on the varied terrain encountered during the race. I ran the Kenda Small Block Eight tires because they are fast and good for a variety of riding conditions. I had a new rear Small Block Eight tire put on in Salida, CO at Absolute Bikes. The route was a mix of gravel, dirt, mud, rain, snow and paved road. We had perfect weather in Banff , Alberta Canada which is where the race started. However most of Montana consisted of rain off and on, a 7 mile snow hike-a-bike and a few muddy stretches that clogged the bike up. Wyoming and Idaho had rain and some mud. Colorado was relatively dry expect for the 5 mile snow hike-a-bike before Steamboat Springs. Throughout the race I encountered lots of horribly grated gravel roads but the worst was in the Gila section in New Mexico .
What mental tricks did you use to keep you going when you felt that the tough got going? The Divide is such a long race that many mental tricks had to be used throughout the race depending on where I was. If it was cold outside getting something warm to drink could have been a huge motivator in constant forward motion. The same for when it was 95 degrees outside, just getting to the next town for a cold drink was a huge reward. A fellow divide racer who finished the race a few years ago just published a book about the race called, “Be Brave, Be Strong”. For the later part of the race I would keep chanting “Be Brave, Be Strong” in my head like a mantra. Her book title is so true for divide racing for all the many times I was out of my comfort zone. I also knew that Kurt was waiting in Silver City , NM for me to finish and I wanted to get done as soon as possible to see him.
What is next for you as far a MTB is concerned?, what does the remainder of the schedule looks like? Right now I am just trying to recover from the 3 week long race. I have been sleeping a lot and going on easy bike rides and runs. The Tour Divide was my only planned raced for the year so the remainder of the year is open.
Will we see you on a cyclocross bike sometime in the future? I currently do not have a cross bike and have yet to enter a cross race, though it may be entertaining racing it on my mountain bike. It would be interesting to see if I could transition from ultra endurance cycling to short, hard effort cycling in a season.
Anything else? I am still trying to figure out what my next big adventure will be but in the mean time I’m just enjoying the Colorado summer.
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