mountain bike on trail at sunset

KT Tape athlete Beata Wronska takes 3'd after 12 Hrs of Santos.

12 Hours of Santos is an epic race as stated by race director himself:  Biggest event on the Gone Riding circuit, set in the challenging and scenic Santos Vortex pit area, this is one event you don't want to miss! 

This is second year in a row that I really wanted to get out there just to experience the Vortex riding and the whole atmosphere but for some reason there was always something to stop me from taking this trip. Well this time was no different and I pretty much decided that besides me really wanting and wishing to be there that was not going to happen once again. My husband however had obviously different plans for me and day after day kept convincing me again and again why I should go to Santos and race.

So just with a few days to spare he managed to turn me around from definite no to definite yes. I was so happy that I was finally going up there. I never biked on the Vortex site before and definitely never did a 12 hour solo race!!! I knew this weekend was going to be an adventure, on many different levels. 

Happily for me the temperature dipped for this weekend pretty low and central Florida was experiencing the coldest days in the whole year. I quite enjoyed it. What can I say, I am from Poland and I really like the cold! When my husband and I arrived on the site in Santos it was just beautiful out there. Sun was fully out on a gorgeous blue sky, and nice crisp air just painted the perfect picture. Vortex looked pretty intimidating from standing in the middle of the old rock quarry. There were cliffs and massive drops all the way around and up there on those narrow and rocky edges of course the most technical bike trails were waiting on us, intervened in this beautiful and scary scenery.

We ventured into the trail system and quickly discovered how advanced and difficult those trails were. Hmm, makes you wonder how anyone can bike on those trails for 12 hours! I was in disbelief. First 1.9 miles of the course were very technical with some "hike a bike" sections where you have to make your way over some piled up boulders in the middle of the trail. Then, it got a little funky and scary while biking on the edge of the cliff with no space to spare and zero mistake tolerance. I did not like this part for sure.  Some tight and rocky up and down sections with loose gravely descends and climbs ended this part of the trail system. Those miles were simply exhausting.

After a while you get to what locals call "get over it" section which is simply another pile of rocks which sets you free from the Vortex trail system and you can just fly away on a fast and whiny 5 mile single track.  Now what we have left is the final 1.6 miles to go, but "oh my" those are some miles to cover. We go through the "eliminator" back to the Vortex system and this is where your heart starts pumping forcefully again. It is technical, tight, tough, very steep and sudden uphills and downs with sharp turns with more climbs and man-made obstacles, including wooden bridges.  Finishing this section in one piece was definitely a relief. All that goes now through your head is, "what did I just sign up for?!"  

We ended the day with a nice dinner after the ride with the Danish family, Duffster and Mike at some Mexican fiesta place and I got some pointers from Ironman Mike on the nutrition during endurance racing. After that we headed to the hotel to rest up for the big day. On the race morning the whole quarry was filled with an incredible amount of tents, cars, vendors and racers ready to go. It was difficult to find a parking spot and after a while of driving around all the campers and lots we finally found a little secluded niche where we decided to settle. 

We met up quickly after that with Collin from Light & Motion that was going to provide me with some awesome lights for today's event. It was cold today, windy and gloomy. After all the preparations we all positioned ourselves on the bottom of the quarry with our bikes up on the next campground which seemed like 0.5 miles away. Surrounded by all those guys ready to go I spotted Josselyn and she asked me which event I was going to compete in. When I told her I'm doing 12 solo, she confirmed she signed up for the same distance and yelled so loud, "heck yeah! Let's go and do some riding!". LOL, she was definitely pumped.

Just shortly thereafter the horn went off!!! The run in the biking shoes uphill was not easy, we all were like galloping like crazy horses. On the top of the hill we took a left turn and there were our bikes waiting. Problem was everyone was mounting the bike at the same time and the gravel road got congested very quickly. After a while we started getting some speed and this is when I had a chance to pass quite a few riders until of course we come to the complete stop on the entry to the easy part of the single track. We were told, "be patient and form a single file" and this is what we all tried to do.

After some 20 seconds of waiting it was great to finally be on the bike and on the trail. It was very easy and windy section of the course and very quickly pretty fast and friendly train of riders formed. We biked this way for a great part of 5 miles. Some guys were making some small talk, playing music and trying to have great time. At some point we started catching up to the group of riders in front and I noticed Kathy was also part of it. She had a nice and relaxed pace and I stayed with her for a long while.

We did 1.5 laps as our first lap and didn't have any issues on the most technical parts of the course. Not much changed during the first three laps and maybe half way through the fourth one I started to feel kind of funny and decided to back off and let Kathy go. It was time now to focus on myself and not on what other people are doing and to make sure to ride within my own means. It was still very cold and very windy and this was very prevalent especially on those flat parts of the course. In the rocky, steep, full attention needy sections things always changed and this is when out of the sudden you are losing lots of energy and burning up from the warmth created by your body. I rode with no flaws really and enjoyed passing check points again and again while race director was announcing my name with each lap.

On some sections when I finally could bike alone I started noticing things that I had no time to look at before. I saw beautiful yellow bell flowers sprinkled on the ground of the gloomy forest which I knew from literature that were blooms of famous Carolina Yessamine vine which I never had a chance to see before in person. I tried to look up but the trees were so tall and I was still biking that I could not really see them all the way up in the tree canopy. Either way this little splash of color made me feel good and cheered me up. I also noticed some beautiful white flowering gentle small trees on the side of the trail (I just discovered there were Dogwoods). I love nature and all those little things made those moments little cozier on this grey and tough day...

This warmth and good spirit was not going to last for much longer however. After four hours of riding things started to go downhill from there on. This is when the pain, fatigue, hunger and all discomforts started to kick in. Everything turned grey, the sky, the forest, and my spirit. I started questioning myself greatly. I started wondering why I was doing it. I was telling myself how everything hurts and how unpleasant I feel. I told myself if I kept on going this is going to make me hate biking! But I love biking. But I hated biking at that moment. What a mess.

I was on the brink of not caring anymore and kind of hating everything. I didn't look down on the ground anymore and didn't notice anything beautiful. I just wanted to stop and get off my bike. Somehow after a long time that maybe seemed like an hour I started to convince myself that it would be appropriate to somehow finish the six hour race, since it is the distance that I know I can finish since I did it before. At this time I allowed June, racer from my class that was competing in the six hour race to make a pass. I would have gone faster if I cared more and if I knew I was not here for a way longer ride. But at this moment everything was questionable and I really was in no position to know for how much longer I really will be biking today.

After five hours I went through the check point and told my husband I'm taking a break. I sat down on my favorite green chair, I had a nice cookie like sandwich to eat and just spent a few minutes trying to chew down as much as I could. I still was not convinced of what was coming next and what I wanted. I just stood up and biked away. I guess I was still in a pretty sad mood.  Minutes later however something changed, and I started slowly getting my energy back and my spirit was lighting up. I started setting myself small goals. Let's finish six hours was the first one. Than realizing that the course is more technical and slower than the rest of the endurance races I did in the past my next goal was to at least match my 60 mile distance from my previous race. And when I got there I wanted to match the 67 mile distance from the other race. And that's it, those were my records.

I never biked further or longer than that in my life. So I did it, somehow I made myself go and go what it seems like forever and get to those numbers. The next thing that was waiting for me was something I would consider unthinkable. I was about to have to ride my bike on the amazingly technical single track in the dark. Oh my. And this was the first time in my life I was going to attempt to actually do it. I never even tried before night riding, even though I always thought it would super fun thing to do with a bunch of friends on a casual ride! But not so sure of doing it alone and during the race.

To add to it, I do not like to be alone in the big forest even during the most sunny and beautiful day so adding to it total darkness which I don't like at all would be a major problem for me during this ride. Before the race I tried not to think of it too much since I knew I would get overwhelmed and very spooked for no valid reasons. So when the race director announced that on the next lap everyone needs to put their night riding lights on I just allowed my husband to gear me up and didn't give it a thought. Still I was refusing to process what was going to happen.

Thankfully the five o'clock lap was still lit and I didn't have to even turn my lights on. I remember looking up at the sky and telling myself this is the last ray of sun that I'm seeing today. Later on I looked up and said this is the last blue/grey I will see up there and day is going away for good now and this is last color that I'm going to see and I will miss it so much for the rest of the night. The race was scheduled on purpose from 10 to 10 instead of 9 to 9 to allow team riders to enjoy one lap of riding in the dark… When you are not riding with a team and you are on your own and you are a little girl in the big dark forest things might not seem the same.

After this lap I arrived at the check point and this is when I needed a jacket since the strong wind and the temps dropping and dropping with each passing minute seemed to pierce my body. There we go, jacket on, lights on and I take off. Weird I didn't even stressed to much or tried to imagine what I was going to go through in the dark. But surprisingly things were not so bad, the Light & Motion light that I was using was giving me so much great light. A strong beam straight ahead and nice diffused light on the sides, but not too wide. I was astonished how clear I still could see and how it was fine to keep riding over boulders, drops, bridges, crazy logs and even on the edges of the cliffs. I was fine. The vortex side was pretty pleasant at night since you could hear voices from below and see some lights. I could hear announcements stating that I was holding 3rd position on numerous passes there, which was good to know. I had Holly in first and Kathy in second position. Behind me was still Josselyn riding strong. Either way I still had long day to go. I needed new goals right now.

As I looked down at my GPS while on the far side of the trail system I saw 74 miles clocked in. I told myself well if I possibly could somehow bike 26 more miles I could hit the 100 mile mark. That would be awesome. Also knowing that a girl from my racing class did previous year here 11 laps I planned to keep those two goals in my focus for the rest of the night. But at the same time thinking that to reach that I would still have to bike another 3.5 laps it seemed slightly illusive. The miles however kept going by, slowly, and at some point I didn't care to look down on the mileage anymore, I just kept going. Only thing that kept me sane was the fact that there was always someone there. It was so comforting and reassuring to see a small faint light somewhere deep in the forest ahead of you, I kept repeating "you are not alone", I would look back often also to make sure there is some little light following me behind. This definitely gave me courage and kept me biking.

Having my husband waiting for me in the check points with everything I needed and showing up on different cross sections to just cheer me on helped gratefully. I didn't feel I was really riding completely solo, it was a team effort and we both were focused on the task on hand. Late at night I felt I still had a descent speed on the easier sections and was riding it with comfortable smoothness. Thought parts of the course started to get tougher and tougher however. Sections which were so difficult to get up on the beginning of the race (like the last 1.5 miles of the loop on roller coaster on something part); become not rideable.

I remember one climb next to a big jump/drop off which with time started evolving from biking it up strong, to biking it slowly, to biking it barley to the top, than to making almost to the top with putting foot down, to making it to 2/3rd up and grabbing tree branch of the tree to pull yourself up. To just getting off and walking your bike up and getting annoyed with one root in the middle of the climb that stops your bike still, to pushing your bike with every last bit of energy when your body is trembling with exhaustion and you got a guy standing on the top warning you, "be careful of the root!" and you reply, "yeah, yeah, the root" and try to maneuver around to don't be stuck. But your body just keeps on going because it's the only thing at the time that it was programmed to do. Everyone walks everything at that time.

I asked a guy behind me on one before last lap if he wanted to go by me on this section and he said,"oh no, I'm exhausted and it is my last lap, I'm done". I remember replying,"I wish I could say the same, I have one more lap to go". Well he was riding with the team. I was doing the whole day by myself, imagine how I felt! I finally arrived to the checkpoint before my final lap. I needed to refuel and change batteries. I didn't even question myself if I should go for another lap, it just felt like it was the right thing to do. I looked around however and my husband was not there. In the middle of the dark when less and less people were biking and I need to go for the final lap and probably I need him more than ever today he is not there. He is no-where to be found.  If I went to the trail system now I had battery life left on both lights for half a lap. I had this awful visual of being by myself, miles away from the vortex pit and my both lights just shutting off on and leaving me in the pitch dark in the middle of nowhere, alone.

I left the race course quickly and started to bike around the pit and look for my husband. My body was tired, cold, I was trembling. I yelled and looked in all directions where I thought he could be. And still there was nothing, I felt so sad, so abandoned, so astonished. I didn't know what to do. After a while I just turned around and rushed over to the Light & Motion tent and asked Collin if he saw my husband and he said he did not. I needed new batteries and I asked him to change them for me if he had extras. And he did and he saved the day (or night) for me at this moment. He just ripped the old batteries off of me and put new ones in no time, I was so grateful for that. I thanked him and biked away asking to let know my husband when he sees him that I'm OK.

To my husband's credit he was waiting at a point to take some pictures of me in the darkness but I guess he missed me...Final lap was dark, lonely and cold. There were not too many bright points anymore to keep you company and feeling safe. I had long portions of the lap, maybe even up to 10-15 minutes long when I was alone, totally alone in the dark. It was quite scary and uncomfortable and I just told myself as long as I don't see a set of some scary eyes standing somewhere next to my path and looking at me I should be fine. I have chosen to rather look down on the path under my tires than even look at the markers showing where I was supposed to go. I just wanted to get out and be fine. I remember catching up after a very long time alone to one team racer and telling him how glad I was to see a person. Approaching the final technical part once again was not easy on the body or on the mind, but making this final climb and final descend really for the last time was so relieving.

Coasting to the finish, dismounting the bike for good and turning the lights off felt so good. I just walked over the car and sat there. I couldn't move or do anything really. My body was shocked that it didn't have to do anything anymore. I felt kind of sick, shivering and trembling from the inside. It took me a long time to get myself together and change, try to eat something and get out from the car for the presentation. It was frigid now outside. No matter how many layers I had on it was still not enough, I was shaking like a leaf.

People started gathering together and we went with my husband and shared experiences with other racers. Everyone had their journey cut out for today. I finished 3rd overall and biked for 103.7 miles in a 12 Hour Solo Female Race. There were so many funny or pleasant or cheerful things that happened during this long day. Lots of memories to take with me home. First one is my husband, being out in the cold for over 12 hours riding around and being at every check point to make sure I had everything I need during my long journey (well except the last one :-)). I could not have done it without him with me.

There were spots where people were cheering riders on with cowbells. Campers sometimes were yelling so loud and making so much noise to encourage racers passing by to keep on going. On one lap when it was starting to get dark I remember them yelling to every person passing by, "Bunny hop! Bunny hop!". I thought it was pretty funny since I was already so tired that last thing on my mind was hopping around with my bike. I had team racers biking next to me saying, "and you are still going" many hours after they saw me the first time. I had girls riding with a team that I knew from previous races riding some sections with me and chatting to keep each other company. At some point I had to hit my brake so hard and almost got a pileup behind me because I didn't want to run over a pretty coral snake in the middle of the trail. And later on toward the evening when going into another lap I had beautiful bunny rabbit jumping right in front of me from the bushes and making me hit my brakes again. It took him a while to think about it before he jumped away to the shrubbery. Bunny did his job by putting a smile on my tired face.

Then there were two unfortunate sudden potty breaks. First earlier in the day when I just had to go and run away to the side of the trail, of course there was a racer approaching and the moment he opened his mouth and started saying "Are you?", I yelled at the same time as reading his mind  "'’m OK!!! Don't look!!!". He smiled and biked away.

Second one goes on my husband. On my check point, a few second break, I announced I wanted to run to the porta potty. Well my husband thinking that my mind can be stronger than my body said just wait, go one more lap. It was this time later in the day, it started to get really grey and the moment I left the transition area I realized I can't wait any longer! Damn. I threw my bike on the side of the trail and went to the bushes, got all scraped up over my legs by wild berry bushes, than while pulling my shorts back on I realized they were covered on the inside with something close to 300 spikes, which were imbedded already in the fabric. I pulled them on with the grim on my face and could not believe that I got so set up by my husband like this. Sitting down on hundreds of poking spikes lining my whole tights was so upsetting. All I could think of for this whole lap was how and in what choice of words I was going to tell my husband what he just did to me!!! I was amazingly angry and I still had almost four hours of biking to go! Now however after the fact I can laugh about it but it was not funny at all at the moment when everything already hurts and annoys you and this just made you want to scream!

First two girls ended up doing extra lap over mine, the Joselyn in fourth did one less. I have however no knowledge of this and knowing that she was making up some time and still riding strong I had no choice but go for my final lap. I could not thank enough everyone that believed in me, encouraged me, cheered for me or thought of me during this adventure. With the help of all my amazing sponsors this day was possible. From my local bike shop Bike Tech which supports all my racing, to my Clif nutrition which was my main energy source for the day. To the Light &Motion which provided me with a whole set of incredible lights and great help from Colin. To the Garden & Life which makes sure I have all the proteins and supplements that target the demands of rigorous racing and training. To Syntace for providing me with the gear that took my hand pain away and I was able to bike more that I could have imagine. Thanks to ESI grips for light and cushioned grip and Stan's NoTubes for having the fastest, lightest wheels on the market. And lastly KT Tape for keeping my knees together for a whole 12 hours and Squirt lube for keeping my chain grease free. Thanks everyone. Also thanks to my family at home in Poland which raised me and molded me to the person that I am today. And of course my closest and strongest support my husband Pax that helps me make my dreams come true. 103.7 Miles and 3rd Place for my first 12 Hr race !!! - Garmin Data  

Thank you Beata Wronska for letting us share your story.  Original Story

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