Each year of my career has been interesting. The thing I love most about being an adventurer and racing my bike around the world is that there will always be surprises. One of my mottos is that it’s important to do things outside our comfort zone, things we have dreamed of doing but been a little afraid to try because it makes us realize that we are more capable than we ever could have imagined. 2016 was no exception.
This year, I added racing Enduro to the mix. I felt like a beginner again, fumbling my way through the logistics my races. What to wear, how to pace, how does timing even work? It was fun to feel anxious and to not know what to expect. I still have a lot to learn! I had to learn about bike set-up, equipment choices, clothing choices, how to race an enduro (logistics, pacing, skills required), and so much more. I am excited about the progress and to do more! My biggest concern was getting injured racing an enduro that would hold me back from endurance racing. I’m happy to say I came out of this year mostly unscathed except for crashing on my head right before Worlds on an EASY trail! It always happens when you’re not paying attention.
I tend to operate at a million miles an hour, going from one event or trip to the next without stopping for a second to think about where I just was or what I did. I’m excited to sit down and look back on my year and share it with you!
Race day count:40 dayswith a number plate on my bike! // 6 stage races; 4 single day events
Trans Andes Challenge: Chile —
endurance xc stage race //Result: 1st
I started my 2016 racing season in January. It seems so long ago. I went to Chile to race the Trans Andes. I had raced it before, but half of the race had been canceled due to crazy rain. I remember being stuck in a field for days with the sound of relentless rain pitter pattering me into insanity! This year was much better, although we still had one canceled stage due to rain. The Trans Andes is an event I would happily go back to race. I love Chile and the culture. The race itself has a fun, relaxed atmosphere and the course is beautiful! I love racing around volcanoes (with smoke billowing out the top for effect), the climbs, and this race had some notably fun descents as well! The race ended in Pucon, an awesomely fun vacation town in Chile. Chileans go there for their holidays with a lake, bright sail boats, and tons of restaurants setting the scene. We even went for a little hike up on Volcan Villarica. I loved meeting Kaysee Armstrong and spending time with her! We had fun with the Glores as well! (Parker and Bill)
Surprised myself- I blew up.
I didn’t pace myself properly on the last day and had my biggest blow up ever! There was a lot of flat dirt road riding in the wind. I was fighting to stay with all the fast guys in their peloton. Flat windy roads are my biggest weakness because I never train it! I kept blowing myself up to stay in these packs so I could make it to a very long climb. I pushed myself one too many times and I was so blown I could barely pedal and thought I was going to have to get off my bike and literally walk on the dirt road! That was a first. Fortunately after crawling at a snail’s pace, I recovered by the time I got to the long climb and blew past almost all the guys who had dropped me on the flat windy road! You should have seen their faces!!
24 Hour Worlds: Rotorua, New Zealand
I went to New Zealand to defend my World Champion title in Rotorua I had never been there before and was so excited! I had a stroke of bad luck and crashed 2 days before the race and hit my head. I had a concussion and had to choose to not start the race. It was a smart decision and a great reminder that there is nothing more important than your health, not even defending a World title! I made the right choice and am happy about that. I loved seeing my friend Kath who flew over from Australia to support me, seeing Andy Pellowe and his family (friends from the Yak Attack), and made some new friends in Rotorua (I love you Carol and Sarah!).
After that, I went to Christchurch and stayed with a friend from grad school whom I hadn’t seen in almost a decade.
I had to admit that in hindsight, it was stupid for me to start this race. I felt fine after my concussion and felt normal, but it had only been 2 weeks. I learned later this year (after my husband suffered a head injury more serious than mine), that 2 weeks is too soon to go back to racing. I was fortunate that I did not crash again.
However, I LOVED IT!! It was my first Enduro.Read about it here. http://www.elevationoutdoors.com/pushed-to-the-limit/
Surprised myself: I actually did well.
My goal was not to finish last! I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I wasn’t expecting to do well at it so that was a nice surprise It was exciting and I was addicted to the adrenaline. The riding was amazing and I made some awesome friends too! It’s also surprising how much better you get by taking small risks! The blind format was exciting!
Event:Joberg2c: South Africa Stage Race– most unique trip of the year //Result: 4th
South Africa has been on my list forever. The Joberber2c was a 900km 9 day stage race from Johannesburg to Durban. I raced on a team with my good friend, Yuki Ikeda. The experience of stage racing in South Africa is amazing. They have over 40 stage races in the country! My favorite and scariest moment was when a stampede of animals almost took us out! I also loved the safari afterward- that was an experience of a lifetime! I love the people in South Africa and loved the friends I made there (do we sense a theme! I love meeting people!) The hospitality of the cycling community was unparalleled. You can read my full report about the race here. http://www.pinkbike.com/news/discovering-south-africa-over-900km-with-sonya-looney-2016.html
Read about it here: http://www.pinkbike.com/news/discovering-south-africa-over-900km-with-sonya-looney-2016.html
Surprised myself: Animals.
I didn’t think I’d be caught head to head with a stampede. I also didn’t think I’d be so excited seeing exotic animals but I was just like a little kid! Zebra, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Lions! So cool!
Event:Salty Dog 6 hour Endurance Race: BC//Result: 1st
I admit to stretching myself a bit in May. I should have taken some downtime after Joberg2c, but I pushed myself to do some more one day races in BC! I always miss the Salty Dog which is like the world championships in the area I live in! The Salty Dog is a 6 hour lap race with very steep climbing and technical descending.
Surprised myself: Survived the death march.
Even though it turned into a bit of a death march for me toward the end, I was surprised I was able to race hard for 6 hours so close to finishing a stage race. Truth be told that it dug me into a hole and I was destroyed for the rest of the month! haha!
Event:Nimby Fifty XC: BC//Result: 4th
This is the most technical XC race on the planet! I love it! And to make it even more exciting, it poured rain the whole time. The very steep trails and features were rivers. I was disappointed because I was so tired from too much racing that I was stuck in 3rd gear. However, I was terrified of riding those trails and rock slabs in the crazy conditions
Surprised myself: I CAN ride wet downhills!
It didn’t take much for me to get comfortable and start crushing the descents in the wet. I thought I’d be timid, but I wasn’t. The wet, sketchy descending went really well and that was a huge surprise! I had been trying to work on wet riding, both mentally and also riding in more wet conditions. We don’t have a lot of that climate in the Okanagan where I live. I think the mental exercises were key!
Event:Trans BC Enduro Stage Race//Result: 4th
Speaking of rain…it rained almost the entire time. This race involved the most technical, steep, gnarly trails in the towns we raced in. The Nimby was just a warm up for the wet sketchy riding. I don’t know how I rode blind down some of these descents. It was amazing for my skills and confidence. It was the most fun I had all year racing my bike because it really pushed me past my limits. You can read more here: http://www.sonyalooney.com/single-post/2016/07/20/Putting-the-Endure-in-Trans-BC-Enduro-Stage-Race
Read about it here: http://www.sonyalooney.com/single-post/2016/07/20/Putting-the-Endure-in-Trans-BC-Enduro-Stage-Race
Surprised myself: I didn’t know I could ride like THAT!
Descending is about commitment and is so mental. I had no idea I could ride like that!
Event:Singletrack 6 Stage Race: BC//Result: 1st
2 stage races in one month was definitely something I had never tried before. I thought maybe Trans BC would be great training for Singletrack 6 as long as I recovered. I was happy to say that I was in top form for Singletrack 6! I also was excited to ride in some new places. Singletrack 6 was highly competitive with a very strong field of women. It was awesome to race against them because it pushed me to ride harder than I thought I could! The locations were all new for me too, so that was fantastic. My favorite was Golden, BC
Surprised myself: I need to work on my mental headspace.
I was really stressed out while I was racing. I didn’t enjoy being in first place. I wanted the days to be over as quickly as possible so I wouldn’t be in so much pain anymore. The stages were the shortest I’ve ever raced in a stage race and I wasn’t prepared for the pain of racing at that intensity. I am working on enjoying that vulnerability.
Events:BC Interior CX Races(2)//Result: 1st x2
I did a few races of the BC Interior Cyclocross in the Okanagan. I don’t race a lot of CX. My last CX bike was pretty old so when I got the new CX Addict from SCOTT, I was pumped to ride it! I had so much fun and yes, I tripped and fell on my face once!
Surprised myself:CX skills are just like riding a bike, but I still trip and fall on barriers! I have no shame!
Event:Trans Cascadia Enduro Stage Race//Result: 6th
Trans Cascadia was my vacation race this year. I didn’t really do any preparation. I just showed up camped, drank beer, had fun, and raced my bike! Don’t get me wrong, I was still putting my best effort forward but I knew that I didn’t put in the work to get the results at this one! I love the riding in Oregon because it feels so surreal in the mystical forests. We also were completely unconnected to the world for 5 days. The race campsites were off grid. I loved having no phone and sleeping in my tent every night. The beer and bonfires were awesomely fun too!
Surprised myself:Vacation Ride!
I wasn’t sure if I would be able to be okay going to a race with a vacation mindset. Despite being a very competitive person, I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t have the eye of the tiger! Turns out it was easy to enjoy!
It was an incredible year! I ended my season with a foot surgery (Taylor bunion surgery) that I have been putting off for about 6 years. I’m excited to come back stronger and have more amazing adventures around the world next year!