The first 200 miles went well. So did the next 100.
Then it hit Theresa Bender.
She’d been riding a bike through hilly desert terrain in Nevada for nearly 20 hours. She was exhausted, and she still had more than 200 miles to the finish line.
The Papillion woman powered through and — thanks to caffeine and an encouraging support crew — was the first solo female cyclist to cross the finish line of the Silver State 508, named for the distance pedaled.
“I was probably too tired to enjoy it as much as I wanted to,” Bender said. “But it was validation that all of the time and money and effort I’d put into it had paid off.”
Bender, 34, started cycling casually in high school. She got a little more serious about the sport in her late 20s.
The Silver State 508, held on Sept. 13 and 14, was the first cycling competition Bender has tackled. The race sends cyclists — solo or in teams — on an out-and-back course along Highway 50 from Reno, Nevada.
Bender, a nurse practitioner with Methodist Health System, finished the race in 34 hours, 44 minutes.
“I’ve never really done any competitive cycling before, but I always knew my niche was in the endurance side of it,” Bender said.
She packed in training around work and family time. Sometimes she squeezed in rides twice a day. Bender tackled the Bike Ride Across Nebraska and the Triple Bypass in Colorado this year.
She was accompanied by a three-member support crew: Brad Hildebrandt, Jim Maaske and Kristin Weston. They drove the route, keeping Bender in sight. They offered changes of socks, energy bars and caffeine. When the going got tough, they shouted words of encouragement to keep Bender going.
Bender said she went in knowing she had the potential and the confidence to do well. She wouldn’t have been disappointed if she didn’t win.
“Plan A is to win it. Plan B is to finish it,” Bender said.
By the time she finished the race, she had received more than 700 text messages from well-wishers. Many messages came from her teammates at Ironhawk Endurance in Omaha.
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Bender’s win qualifies her for the Race Across America in June, although she may opt for a different endurance race that runs from California to Colorado.
Oh, and she’ll have to ramp up her running routine again. Bender is running the Boston Marathon in April.
Instead of numbers on the race bibs at the Silver State 508, runners have a moniker or totem. Bender submitted hers as “the not-so-magical unicorn.” Race directors boiled it down to magical unicorn. It was fitting, she said.
“I think it really kind of summarized a rookie athlete on the course, surprising everyone and getting after it,” Bender said.