Park City Point to Point: Do, or Do Not, but Do Not Try 

 

Suffering
“Oomph!  How much further to the summit?” – my tired legs

The guys at aid station #3 said I only had two more miles of climbing until the final 8-mile descent to the finish line.  I’m still climbing at snail’s pace, and it’s been over five miles since I left their false promises.  This has been a long day.  The Point to Point boasts over 15,000 ft. of climbing in the Wasatch mountains over the course of 76 miles, and I have been in misery since mile 25.  I am trying not to let the well-intentioned misinformation from the volunteers at aid #3 dim my spirits.  Just keep pedaling.

The Back-Story to This Moment

I lined up to race this morning with some amazing women I was thrilled to chase.  Not having raced this distance or elevation profile before, I knew this race would be a learning experience for me.  I had abandoned my warm-up routine when my hands, feet and nose were numb in the (very) early morning chill, and opted to regain feeling in my extremities huddled with several other racers in the heated women’s bathroom.  Park City has heated public bathrooms at trailheads; fancy!  No longer shivering, I rolled to the start line. An air cannon shot cereal into the air, beginning my Park City Point to Point escapade.

The Pro Women did not begin with a social pace that winds up to race pace over the first 20 minutes of racing allowing riders to warm-up in the actual race as is typical for ultra-endurance distances.  Normally ultra-endurance races begin at a social pace that slowly builds to race pace over the first 20 minutes of a race, which allows riders to warm up. But not today. Instead, we tore from the line sprinting in short-course fashion.  I love to jockey for a spot in the lead pack, so I gave chase but regretted not properly warming up.  We ripped through Round Valley, and I was in heaven nailing the loose switchbacks on the descents.  The lead pack broke up as we crossed into Deer Crest.  I slowed on this climb realizing I had gone hard off the start and needed to settle into my pace.  Typically, I am a diesel engine distance rider: I slowly build to pace and hold it for the duration.  This puts me behind the pack in the early part of the race, and I slowly pass up through the field to the finish. Today, however, I was a hot rod. I decided I would go fast off the start and hope to put enough distance between myself and the chasing women to hold my position.  This was new.

Bike Demo Pic (2)
A (brief) moment of descending. Photo: Park City Bike Demos

Having fun with elbow-bumping racing, opportunities to eat were few, and the cool early morning temps distracted me from my need to hydrate. By 10am and just 30 miles in to a 76-mile race, I discovered I had bonked.* Using my normal race strategy, I am a metronome for pace, hydration and nutrition, which keeps me from entering this sad, miserable state.  This was unchartered territory.  I replaced my hydration bladder, which was only half empty (bad!) but did not need to restock my gels because I had not taken a single one (very bad!).  I knew I needed to get some sugar smacks  running through my system ASAP if I was going to overcome the bonk.  I went to the feed station, and nothing looked good.  There were tasty options, but when you are that depleted nothing looks appetizing.  I was in serious trouble!  I tried to eat a cookie as I rolled away from the first aid station and was nauseous.  I am sorry to admit I fed most of it to the squirrels.  *See footnote at end of article for a definition of “bonked.”

Climbing Park City Mountain Resort was pure drudgery.  I was getting passed.  And passed some more.  It was heartbreaking, but I knew my current situation was my own doing.  Then finally, halleluiah! I reached John’s  99 trail, and the technical descent, a non-energy consuming strength of mine, restored my spirits.  I felt like I deserved the “pro grease”  number on my calf again until the next climb where my legs cramped and the men I passed on the previous descent enjoyed zipping past.  My mantra kept me going, “Drink. Eat.  Ride the efficient line. Keep pedaling. You’ve got this.”

At the bottom of Crescent Mine Grade, the second aid station greeted me.  I told myself that if I was not having fun I could call it quits here.  Cheering friends brought sanity back to my thoughts.  I was suffering, but I was not in danger of injuring myself.  I was not going to be on the podium today, but that is not why I race.  I had made a series of tactical mistakes, but this would be a point to improve upon moving forward in my career.  So, I left aid station #2 to climb Armstrong and knew I would see this through.  No excuses.

Rolling Home
Finally, the finish line is in sight!

Back to Now

With cheeks packed with potato chips from the third and final aid station (I was hoping they would dissolve and enter my bloodstream without my body realizing I was eating), I finally hit the descent from The Canyons to the Utah Olympic Park where the finish line mercifully received me.  Done. I got this done.  It was not pretty.  It was not a race to brag about.  I am proud to be a professional cyclist, but today was humbling.   With TUNA coach Chris holding my bike so I could dismount on wobbly legs, my sister eagerly embracing me despite a sweat-soaked kit and a thick coating of dust, my DH skills coach Brandon spraying me down car-wash style, and Summit Bike Team director Lori  enticing me to the ice cream parlor, I realized there was no embarrassment for me to hold on to.  Racing is an adventure, and if everything went perfectly it would be mundane.  Victory is not dictated by a number or the approval of others, it is marked by reaching beyond what feels possible.  Today I won by overcoming fear of perceived failure.  My podium was learning how mentally strong I am amidst physical meltdown. My award was the love lavished nonjudgmentally on me by my cycling community.   Define your own success.

Sister finish Love
My sister greeting me at the finish.  Love her.

*Definition of Bonking While Mountain Biking

  1. Going hard and getting passed by a rider I expect to finish ahead of. I’m convinced they are riding above their abilities and will blow up.  In reality, I’m crawling.  I have run out of fuel and my muscles can barely fire. 
  2. Cursing the rocks for being in my way, forcing me to maneuver my bike and put some heat into my pedal stroke so my bike doesn’t topple over. My adrenaline is spiking in a last-ditch effort of survival because my brain knows the end is near.
  3. Realizing I’m calorie depleted and trying to take in a gel, but it tastes like soggy socks instead of bacon. My ego no longer cares if I stop to look in my pockets for something edible.
  4. Tears. I’m understanding this mess is my own doing.  (Yes, I just admitted that.)
  5. Acceptance. Keep going.  Do damage control.

All photos unless otherwise noted are from Angie Harker at Selective Vision.

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“Yeah, I’m kind of a big deal.”

 

The Radavist Photo.jpg
I’m disheveled and dirty, but still upright through the “baby heads” on the XC course.  Photo: The Radavist

The All-Mountain World Championships took place at Downieville CA last weekend and I was over the moon to be in the mix.  The famous Downieville Classic draws some of the most famous names in mountain biking to test their all-around bike prowess over two days of grueling racing.  Day one is a mass start cross country course (XC) with a leg searing and lung busting eight mile climb on loose terrain to start the morning, followed by descending a pinball chute of round river rocks (“baby heads”) and through deep creek crossings, then finishing with a sprint down Main St. of the mining town.  Day two is a downhill course (DH) where riders start at thirty second intervals to rally features with names like “The Dip” and “The Waterfall” while descending 4000 ft  over fourteen miles in less than an hour.  The All-Mountain Champion is determined by riders results from both days.  I have wanted to be a part of this race since I first heard of it, and hoped my fitness and technical skills were up to the task.

 

 

Bike weigh in
Bike weigh-in.  This one is WAY beefier than my ride.

Unique to this race is using the same bike for each day of racing.  Mountain bikes come in many flavors to support a rider’s style and terrain choice.  An XC bike will be a light and twitchy climbing machine, but unforgiving on rough and technical terrain making for a slower descent.  A DH bike will be a bit heavy and inefficient to pedal uphill, but will float over obstacles and gobble up terrain as it flies down the mountain.  Bike choice is clutch.  Bikes are weighed and components recorded each day to ensure racers are on the same bike.  I chose my XC race bike, a Trek Top Fuel , that is an aggressive climbing beast and has full suspension to soften the descent.  I gave it some downhill boost with a 9points8 dropper seat post so I could get behind my saddle for drops and rock gardens and put a wide DH tire on the front to hold onto the loose corners but kept a narrow fast rolling tire on the rear to keep me fast.  I was entirely confident with my bike choice until the first bike weigh-in where the crew laughed at my bike and said it was the lightest they had seen.  Too late to rethink it now!

 

Day 1

The XC start was a combined pro men and women affair.  Five time Olympian Katerina Nash took off like a rocket and the women chassed.  Except me.  I know Katerina’s pace is superhuman and will explode my legs in a few miles.  Since this race would take over two hours, I settled into my steady climbing pace.  As I expected, the chasing women were popping off the pace left and right.  I slowly passed one rider after another all the way to the top.  One woman got excited about me passing her in eyesight of the top and elbowed me off the gravel road.  Instead of dampening my day, it fueled me to get back on my bike and zoom by her right before the single-track descent began to cheers of spectators who saw the incident. 

 

Kapow (2)
It took a little superhero mojo to rally the XC climb.

Pauly’s Trail, aka pinball alley, loomed and I was with a great group of pro men.  I stayed with this group confidently as I hovered over my bike as she moved through the choss like a possessed serpent.  I rode perfectly and even the men I was riding with gave me accolades.  As town loomed a group of spectators hollered that I was the second woman to pass.  I figured they had just not noticed some of the women ahead of me.  The field was star studded and I knew I was strong, but second place seemed unlikely.  Another cheering squad and another remark that I was in second.  At the finish, it was official, I came in second to Katerina.  Holy cow! Now to recover for tomorrow.

 

Day 2

 

Miracle mechanic
Jordan at Velofix sending me to the DH start with a repaired tire just in the nick of time

I always seem to have some drama during a race.  You would think that with all this disaster management I would have calm nerves when things don’t go as expected, but when I sliced my rear tire less than twenty minutes before my DH start I came unglued.  I shouldered my bike and ran a mile (not sure when I ran a mile last) to the neutral mechanic at the start for help.  He was a pro.  He grabbed by bike and told me to go sit in the shade and her would get my bike fixed with time to spare.  And he did.  With gratitude I took the start.

 

 

Full Moon Stan (2)
Unexpected “Full Moon” obstacle on the DH course.  Photo Stan Lee Austin

I was followed 30 seconds by Tracy Moseley, Enduro World Champion from the U.K., and Katerina 30 seconds behind her.  I knew both women would be faster than me on the DH, but was excited to try and follow their wheel when they passed me.  It felt like only thirty seconds, though statistically it could not have been, when Tracey literally flew by me.  The only reason I knew the blur was her was because in a British accent she said, “pardon me, might I pass?” I held her wheel for a millisecond.  Katerina caught me too, but further into the run than I expected.  I was able to hold her line, but it was at the top end of where I can pilot my bike.  She rides direct and light as air. What a learning experience that was.  We hit a climb and she disappeared.  At the Dip, Tracey flatted.  The rocks in the bottom were sharp and luck did not smile on her.  I delicately rode the feature and pedaled on.  Of course she passed me again, but this time the terrain was not as gnarly and I held here wheel for about ten seconds.  Wow, that woman can ride a bike!  I got to work and rode my race taking the time to ride obstacles clean.  The last few miles on the DH are pedally (smooth, relatively strait, and have some climbing).  I caught Tracy.  In disbelief, I put my head down and gritted it out to the finish.  I finished ahead of her, but with the time gap she placed ahead of me.  She is exactly the role model I dream of.  She hugged me at the finish and shared with me that she was exhausted when I caught her, but it motivated her to pick it up to the finish knowing she only had thirty seconds on me.  I put pressure on her!

 

 

Hero's
Pinch me! I’m getting ready for the podium with Tracy and Katerina.

With staggered starts and many women in the field with impressive DH resumes, I assumed I finished middle of the pack.  I hoped my good DH time would keep me on the podium for the All-Mountain competition, but was so happy with my riding that it didn’t really matter.  I had raced the DH to the best of my ability and not got caught up in going too fast and making errors; what I have often done when racing heady terrain.  While cooling down, a friend congratulated me on my third-place finish.  I was stoked to learn I stayed on the podium.  He said, “No, you placed third in the DH.  You finished second over-all!”  Pinch me!  Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up on the podium between Katerina and Tracy.  I’m not going to lie, it was really fun to “be a big deal.”

 

Dville logo

“Carson City, So Hot Right Now. Carson City.” – Zoolander

xc 2 stan (2)Last weekend I headed to Carson City, Nevada to race the Epic Rides Carson City Off-Road Race.  It was the first time I have raced a 55-mile course with a women’s field this stacked, and I was stoked for a new challenge.  However, I never imagined my biggest challenge would be the extreme conditions.

course marker (2)
“More fun, hot, and exposed trail ahead,” Course Marker

Winter would not give in to spring this year in Bend, OR.  Much of our mountain bike terrain was under snow until I left for a few weeks of traveling and racing. I’ve been riding in leggings and sleeves to stay warm, and when I surrendered hope for the trails and hit the road, snow was in the forecast again.  Even my spring training week in St. George, UT was during a cold streak of rain and temps in the 60’s.  Needless to say, I do not have tan lines or acclimatization to the heat!  Arriving in Carson City I learned they too were melting out from an epic winter, and the course had to be modified to lower elevations: three loops covering 55 miles with over 7000ft of climbing on exposed terrain.  And then, last minute, the heat wave hit.  The temps rapidly went from the sixties to the nineties; I would be racing in ninety-five degree temperatures without tree coverage to stay out of the sun.  Gulp.  It was time to plan for how to race in the conditions when I was completely not acclimated to heat.  

Here is what I did to acclimate as much as I could in the days leading up to the race:

  • I pre-rode the course (about 19 miles) during peak heat every day except Saturday.
  • I drank as much water as I could all day, alternating water with electrolytes.
  • I avoided air conditioned environments, but kept cool with cold showers and dips in the river.  Likewise, I slept with the windows open.  ***(see bottom of post)***
crit 2 stan (2)
Staying with Sophia and Nicki through the corners on the crit.

Friday evening was the fat tire criterion race.  It would be a good test run of my heat hardiness.  I did a full hour plus warm-up in the heat for my race, and drank carbohydrates and electrolytes. The crit was a blast.  It was my first of this variety: a short loop on the roads through downtown Carson City with tight corners that we raced through on our mountain bikes. The pace was instantly fast, and we were shoulder to shoulder going into the first few turns.  At the second corner there was a crash that I stayed clear of, but it reminded me that my first priority was to stay safe.  The pack started to break up and I pulled into the lead group.  The worst place to be is at the back of a group in this sort of race.  You are forced to brake into corners and sprint out of them to keep up.  This yo-yo riding blows through your energy reserves quickly.  I knew this and had the sprint power to pull into the middle of the pack, but every time I did a more experienced crit rider would challenge me for position, and I would back.  As expected, I blew up just 10 minutes into a race of 30 minutes plus three laps.  After a lap, I recovered enough to try and claw back to the lead group.  That turned out to be an impossible task for me solo with a headwind climb, but I was able to practice smart strategy and pass two women who popped off the lead group.  It turns out I have learned a thing or two about road racing watching the grand tours on TV over the years.  Dripping sweat I made the final lap.  I knew I would have to be more strategic in managing the conditions on Sunday for the big race if I wanted to be successful.

Dennis and Spencer finish (2)
My host family father and son finishing the Epic Ride together.

Saturday, the amateurs took to the course.  I did my tune-up ride in the morning before the temperatures hit the nineties then headed out to cheer the racers on.  Dennis and Spencer, my host families father and son were racing as well as many others I knew.  Many of them were visibly overheated.  I knew preventing this was essential for me the following day.  That night my host family threw a backyard party to celebrate those who raced that day.  I heard their race play-by-plays and took note.  Cramping and sour stomachs were a big issue for them, as was their lack of desire to take in calories in the heat.  I had a plan for this and fell asleep confident for Sundays event.

XC stan (2)
Off the back… but only for a moment!

At 7:40am Sunday morning in eight-five degrees, the pro women’s field started the Carson City Off Road. The pace was social as we rode out of downtown and picked up as we headed to King’s Canyon.  As we hit the gravel road I glanced at my Garmin and was surprised to see my effort was too high to sustain for the distance in the heat.  It was devastating to be the first woman to drop off the peloton, but I stuck to my strategy knowing that going too hard too early would put my success in jeopardy.  Adding insult to my ego, my husband Joe and host family were just ahead to cheer me on, and I was in dead last. I did holler to Joe that my position was part on my “Grand Plan” so he wouldn’t worry and I pedaled by.  As we hit the single track the peloton started to break up, and I caught up to two women.  I got around them before the descent and put some distance between us.  Later in the descent I caught several women and knew that if I stuck to my steady-Eddie pace and confident downhill skills I would continue to move up the field.

XC Dennis pic edit
Headed home.  Olivia is just ahead.  Pavement is in sight.  Go, go, go!

The second lap was a blur of passing women, hydrating, fueling, feeling the heat take it’s toll, and enjoying the descent to cheering crowds.  At the end of the second lap I met Joe to pick up a new frozen hydration pack.  He dumped ice water all over me to cool me down then I pedaled through the streets to downtown feeling spry.

The third lap was a crusher.  I kept my pace in check, resisting the urge to slow.  I knew I was heating up so I started drinking as much cool fluid as I could.  I was dreaming of a breeze or the shade of a single tree as I caught Olivia, a beast of an endurance racer, ahead of me. Then I started to get goose-bumps, a sure sign of overheating.  I

finish stan (2)
Olivia and I at the finish, both of us are in disbelief that we rode the last five miles that fast.

slowed, and at an aid station I doused myself in ice water and drank even more until my temperature was under control.  I headed out again with a friendly push from the aid team.  I began to feel better and better as I continued to climb with only dim hopes of catching Olivia who had passed me while I dealt with my overheating, but I did near the end of the descent!  There was no room to pass, so I hugged her wheel.  We hit the last, short climb and Olivia took off like a rabbit.  I gave chase, but she put a little distance between us.  Olivia is a pro-roadie and can crush open terrain like the pavement we hit.  I spun my legs as fast as I could in my largest gear, zipping through the city and sprinting to the finish.  Though Olivia kept her lead on me, I was stoked to have a her to motivate me to give my all at the end of a tough race.  What a great day.  My thoughtful preparations to race in the heat and trusting the strategy I laid out for myself were key to a successful race.  Dare I say it?  Bring on the heat!

These beautiful images are generously provided by Stan Lattin.  Follow him on Instagram @mtb_stan_lee

***Follow up post about the science of adapting to extreme heat and how to do it coming next week!  Stay tuned.***

Missoula Pro XCT: Where Even Mechanicals Can’t Dim My Race

STXC pain (2)
Yeah, this race is tough, and yes that’s dirt on my teeth.  Photo: Kenny Wehn

With my Dad as co-pilot, in a downpour that lasted almost the entire eleven hours of driving, I anticipated the Missoula Pro XC with glee.  This would be my third year at this race and it is my favorite UCI XC course.  It features a lung exploding climb with tight switchbacks, a steep descent that you cannot let your guard down on for even a moment, a heart-in-your-throat gap jump, and is lined with cheering crowds.  Not to mention that Marshal Mountain is in full wildflower bloom and town full of good eats. 

My race season started a bit late this year so I could savor the ski season, and only now am I in race form.  I could not wait to see what I could do at this race.  Afternoon race starts are tough for me to manage my nerves.  My Dad was a trooper putting up with me bouncing around in the endless rain which generously called it a day as the pro women took the start line. 

bull jump
Landing more gently off the Bull Jump than I’d like to.

As expected, the pace for the first lap was insane.  I held tight in the lead pack up the climb but prayed the second climb would be humane.  Thankfully the descent loomed and I launched over the first water bar.  A strange sound from my bike greeted my landing, but I had no time to ponder it as the second water bar was just feet away.  When I landed the second time I could not control my bike and crashed into the lupine.  I was unhurt, but mystified that I made an error on a simple terrain feature.  I freed my handlebars from the cables, put my chain back on, did a quick run through my bike to make sure nothing was damaged, and got back into the race a few riders back from my pre-wreck position.  I pressed through the next tight turn to the left and then the following one to the right.  But on the second turn my bike felt as if it was flexing.  Not good.  I trusted my scan of my bike after my crash and was confident nothing serious like a cracked frame had happened, so I surmised my bottom bracket lost a few bearings or my rear hub was damaged.  Neither mechanical would be so catastrophic that my bike was unsafe to finish the race, but I would have to descend with caution and at less speed than I like to carry.  I would have to make my gains on the field climbing instead of relying on my downhill skills as I usually do.

I rode very cautiously on my second lap amidst sporadic grinding sounds from my bike.  It took me a while to adjust to the lateral flexing my bike made when I make turns to the right or compressed my suspension.  The rider behind me took my wheel.  I needed to decide: trust my evaluation of my bike and race or drop out.  On the descent, I started to understand how to handle my bike with confidence and headed out for the third lap.

 

Dad and I
Dad greeting me at the finish.

Though I could not zoom the descents or air obstacles, I maintained my position in the race with strong climbing.  The last lap came and I felt good.  It was time to put the hurt on the women around me knowing if I didn’t put enough distance between us on the climb they could catch me on the final downhill.  My legs were up to the challenge and I got around the women near me.  I even saw a racer ahead of me who I’ve not been able to catch before late in the descent, but was unwilling to press my bike mechanical issues to close the gap.  Elated, I crossed the finish line in seventh place.  My best UCI finish yet!  If I had been able to ride the downhill sections at full speed I may have been in contention for a spot on the podium.  I was stoked!

 

 

missing pivot
Missing Pivot.  Doh!

Washing the mud off my bike, I saw the mechanical problem.  I had lost one of the pivots.  Pivots are the bolts and bearings that connect the rear triangle of a full suspension bike to the rest of the frame.  With one missing my bike would in fact flex whenever force was put into the frame.  It validated my cautious riding and I was glad I stayed safe.  I must have broken the pivot landing the first water bar and it must have come out on the landing of the second one.  This is a mechanical problem that is extremely rare, and just luck of the draw that it happened. Because this is a part of a bike that is almost never damaged, no bike shops or race mechanics had one to repair my bike with.  I really wanted to race short track on Sunday morning, but my bike was unsafe to ride.

 

XCT passing (2)
Being able to race Short Track was a miracle.

The bike community is AMAZING!  When word got out what had happened to my bike, the Bear Development Team came to my rescue.  They race Trek Top Fuels too and one of their junior men offered to let me borrow his pivot bolt so I could race.  I literally jumped for joy. Adams race was right before mine and he finished second.  After his award ceremony, Jack, the team mechanic, dismantled Adams frame and installed the pivot on mine.  I had ten minutes before the start of my race and did my best to warm-up my race tired legs in a few minutes instead of the hour I usually take.  I rolled to the start line just in time and we were off.  It took a few laps for my legs to warm-up and my sluggish start put me in a position that was hard to claw ahead from.  But it didn’t matter, I got to race!

 

Dad and I headed to The Big Dipper for a celebratory ice cream.  We talked about my races, and even though both had some bloopers, I was really pleased with how I did.  I kept cool through a mechanical and used it as an opportunity to test my climbing fitness.  My endurance is expanding; I could pick up the pace for the last lap and was not wasted from the race (aka I could keep my eyes open during dinner).  I am part of a community that is generous.  I am understanding race strategy more and can plan my attacks and know when to be patient.  Most of all, I had a great time. 

Special thanks to my awesome bike shop, Sunnyside Sports in Bend who overnighted a replacement pivot to meet me at the next stop on my race tour.  Also a shout out to Open Road Bicycles in Missoula and Velo Reno who both incredibly offered to take a pivot off a floor bike but unfortunately did not have a match, and Reno Cycling that got my frame bolted together again.  What an adventure. 

No Time to be Rusty at My First Race of the Season at a New Pro XCT Venue

XC start kennyFirst race of my season, and the first running of the Dev Tech Pro XCT in Midway, Utah.  A new course.  A new race season.  Old home turf and old friends to connect with.  Second weekend in a row with my sister.  Second to none stoke.

XC1
The fast line is usually the fun line

I have spent time with Summit Bike Club,   a youth development team, who created this event. These kids are as comfortable off monster drops as they are on highball balance beams. I knew they would turn the rolling hillside that was the site of the 2000 Winter Olympic Nordic events into something playful that would reward an XC racer with BMX, trials or DH skills.    On pre-ride, I was not disappointed.

The course featured two steep climbs that were just long enough to singe your legs.  But you would not get to recover from these; they were followed by descents full of tight switchbacks, extremely steep shoots, bike park style jumps and doubles, rock gardens, drops, up and overs, and slalom tree lines.  It would be impossible not to have fun on this course.  My challenge would be to stay at race pace and not get distracted playing on the obstacles.

ShortTrack1
Keeping My Flow on Short Track

Friday: Short Track.  I love it when short track is the day before XC.  It lets me work out my race nerves, get a feel for the terrain at speed, and is a great race tune-up.  This short track was not UCI sanctioned so the U23 women got to race with the pro women.  This was so cool.  These young women have grown up mountain biking, where many pros had not heard of a mountain bike at their age, and they added fresh enthusiasm to the field.  My sister cheered me on as round and round I went.  It was hard to stay fluid on the course and it took me a few laps to stop waste my energy braking to drop speed for a blind turn and accelerating out of it.  I’m not quite in race form yet and some cobweb clearing happened for me at this race.   Flow would be essential for my success at tomorrow’s XC race. 

 

XC2
It is impossible not to smile while riding this course.

Saturday: Cross Country.  My plan was to test my early season fitness by staying with the lead group for as many laps as possible.  The first climb pace was exhausting to keep up with.  I focused on my strengths: steady pacing so I am strong in my last lap, taking the direct/fast line at obstacles, and flowing through turns to not lose momentum.  I had moments where I moved up the field, I had moments where I knew I could not close the gap.  The whole time my sister was running around the course to cheer me on and take photos.  She was as tired from being a spectator as I was from racing. Though I’m in early season form and most of the other women have been racing since late March, I pulled into the finish in eighth place.  My best UCI finish yet.  Look out, I’m going to crush this year!

 

Breck Epic Stage 6 – Get er’ done!

AwardToast.  Cooked.  Cracked.  Gassed.  Shattered.  Today I got to experience this firsthand: panting, legs burning, dull brain, feeling like I’m giving everything but the output is a trickle, a mile is a forever, a water bar feels like a three foot step-up, and I am spent! 

Stage six had us going up and over Gold Dust on wiggly single-track, descending to the valley in a moss covered ditch that felt like riding a bobsled run, climbing a fire road back up Gold Dust, then a single track descent home.  I was lackluster on the first climb but the fun terrain made up for my missing oomph.  I felt like a rabbit dropping into the valley, but then was passed by one of my competitors making me wonder how fleet of wheel I really was.  On the final climb, I was slipping back.  The headwind was not helping but Dean and JP caught me in pace line formation and urged me to grab on.  With tunnel vision to the wheel ahead of me (and JP’s prosthetic leg – so cool! He’s an Afghanistan Vet) I dug as deep as I could, but try as I may I just couldn’t hold on.  The will to go harder was there but the tank was dry.  I had slipped back to fourth position on the day but my effort would maintain my overall standing.  Head down, put calories in, keep turning the pedals, get er’ done… that’s just what I did.

Finally, atop Gold Dust the second time, I was greeted with PBR and  a raucous seven mile descent to reboot my energy.  Ripping down root covered chutes and plowing along running creeks it felt like I hadn’t pedaled over 250 miles over countless mountain passes in the past six days.  Elated, I hit the finish line and joined the riders sharing their glee at completing the Breck Epic. What a ride!  What an adventure.  Holy cow that was a huge undertaking.  I loved it.  I’m going to take a day off biking.  Okay, maybe two.  When do I get to do this again?

Breck Epic Stage 5: “Damn it Jim, I’m a biker not a hiker!”

Her I am at my TT wave start completely oblivious to how hard today is going to be.
Her I am at my TT wave start completely oblivious to how hard today is going to be.

It turns out that competitive hike a bike is a misery loves company affair.  Today’s stage began as a TT start based on our overall standings in the race to keep us spread out on the single track start.  Quickly the trail turned upwards and we climbed to the top of Wheeler Peak in under six miles.  Climbed!  I’m sure the track was laid by mountain goats and the last half mile was mandatory hike-a-bike turf.  But rewarded I was at the top; views, views, views, bacon frying and gummy bears were the reward.  But it was a ruse!  We were not going down, we were to traverse, descend a bit, climb, climb, climb, traverse, carry our bikes over talus, climb to another summit above 13,000 ft, and traverse more goat paths (Mike the race director called them primitive trails…). It was a hard task to ride up to 12,000 ft on the Queens stage, but pedaling very technical terrain above that for over an hour was a feat of mental stamina with a brain starved for oxygen.  I have never been so happy for a descent.  Loose and exposed at the top did not matter, as the altitude decreased my bliss increased.  The descent was truly a trail of legends.  What a big day!

As I mentioned yesterday, stage racing is the full monte of cycling experience: endurance, technical skills, tactics, perseverance, and luck.  I had the third strike of oops today, the dreaded crash.  Not really much of a crash.  I was descending after the first summit, still unaware that I had another hour of hard riding at altitude in my future, on a section that was a pinball gallery of boulders on a steep hillside.  My bike got bounced loose on my line and rather than go off the steep side of the “trail” I opted to lay it down on the uphill side.  I scraped my arm on a rock and thought nothing of it.  Much later a rider passed me and asked if I was alright.  I was confused and said yes, and then another rider asked me the same thing as I overtook him.  Again at the aid station I was asked if I needed medical.  I decided that the scrape on my arm must be pretty ugly, but obviously not an emergency as I had no pain and arm and hand worked just fine so off to the finish line (in a downpour) I went.  At the finish I was brave enough to look at my arm: a pretty meaty slash that was nicely cleaned by all the rain was my souvenir of the day. 

The look of disbelief that I got todays stage done.
The look of disbelief that I got todays stage done.

My Dad came to watch my finish and I was so glad for some assistance, but sorry to have him see his daughter sliced up.  I gave him the task of washing my mud caked bike as I found medical.  They took one look at my arm and sent me to the ER.  Sorry Dad!  So off to the hospital we went.  I was super lucky; the gash was so deep they could see all my tendons but none of them were nicked.  A nice row of internal and external stitches later my arm is as good as new! 

Tomorrow is the final stage of the race.  It is rumored that most divisions ride as a parade (and take whisky shots at the summits) but I suspect the fierce ladies in the open field will want one more day of competition.  Whichever way the race leader chooses will no doubt be the icing on the cake for me and this amazing adventure into the Breck Epic.

Breck Epic Stage 4: Doh!

My favorite finish line snack: banana slathered in peanut butter and topped with a crispy piece of bacon.
My favorite finish line snack: banana slathered in peanut butter and topped with a crispy piece of bacon.

I’m feeling pretty darn good.  I’m thirty three miles into a beautiful ride that has taken me from Breckenridge to Keystone and am headed back.  I easily climbed Vomit Hill, kept my wits about me on the Aquaduct trail with a very exposed traverse, and steady-Eddie’ed the eight mile grinder climb out of Keystone.  I’m munching on a Gu waffle and banana I grabbed at the last aid station and I’m starting to get nervous.  I’m alone, and today the racers are very spread out so this is not unusual, but something feels off.  My Spidy senses are tingling and I slow down.  I must be off course.  I stop and wait for another rider to come into view.  No rider.  Even though I’ve climbed two miles up from the last aid station I turn.  Yep, I was off course.  (As I was headed down a course marshal drove up to catch me – what a well run race!)  Right after the Aid station there was a right turn onto new single track and I must have missed the course marking (the course is really well marked) as I was stashing supplies into pockets from the aid station.  Doh!

Though I added four miles to my day and at least ten minutes to my time (I really don’t want to look at my Garmin data to see how bad it really was), I got back on track.  I decided to ask my body to pick up the pace just a titch and see if it would respond.  Yes!  For the first time at altitude I could push a little harder without my heart rate spiking.  I slowly passed riders I had gone around two hours earlier, and moved back into second place for the day.  The women I passed the second time were quite confused to see me again, but they gave me kind words for my error.  A gentleman I was riding near heard about my mistake and as we hit the last big descent he invited me to follow his line, he was a local and had it dialed.  So with blazing speed I would not dare otherwise on a descent I’ve never ridden before I zipped the last four miles to the finish.

Wow.  Stage racing is such an adventure!  Mechanicals, getting off course, crashing (cross your fingers for me that I continue to kept it rubber side down), weather… I suspect every rider has to manage at least one of these blips.  The race is long.  Ride your race.  I’m having so much fun!

Breck Epic Stage 3: I now know why it’s called Epic!

A Queen Size Course Profile
A Queen Size Course Profile

Todays stage had a bit of everything:

  • Climbing over two 12,000 ft mountain passes
  • Biking up a river
  • Descending a snow field
  • Lightning and thunder (fortunately I was in the valley between the two big climbs)
  • Ear to ear grin downhills
  • Walking my bike for about a quarter mile because it was too steep (even Todd Wells walked)
  • Technical descending in a downpour (all the skills sessions I’ve been leading this year really came in handy here, I passed so many people who were walking and I was giggling with glee)
  • Views!  The climbing was so slow I had lots of time to look around.
  • Skittle hand-ups on the summit
Rolling Into The Finish
Rolling Into The Finish

Today’s course was the Queens stage, a climber’s day.  I fancy myself a climber so I was excited about riding my bike over the big passes that would have me pedaling at an altitude I’ve not been on a bike at.  Three days into this race and the field is friendly; passing is made simple, if you are off your bike everyone will slow to offer assistance, veterans will give you beta on what is up ahead, and several men gave me a little push uphill as I passed them while they were walking.  I tried a new hydration/ fueling strategy that worked better for me than previous days and the aid stations were stocked with bananas and Gu’s waffles that were a welcome treat to gels (ingesting gel #15 today still required anti-gagging tactics).  And I have found my inner bike Buddha and no longer care what other riders ahead or behind me are doing; I ride my race, trust my training and listen to my body.

I Know, Enough Podium Shots - It's just pretty cool to be here!
I Know, Enough Podium Shots – It’s just pretty cool to be here!

My legs definitely did not have the oomph in them I was hoping for, so today I listened to them and backed off when the burn started to be ignited. My bike is sporting a new rear shock and rear tire today so I attacked the descents, which were first class fun-fests.  I came across the finish line third in my division, but was elated.  (I’m still second overall.)  My Mom was volunteering at the finish line and her friendly cheer made me feel like a celebrity. I had the most excellent day on the bike.  Though tired, as one would be after riding 44 miles and climbing 6400 ft, I felt great!  This monster of a day is one I’m proud of putting in my personal record book, and feel tomorrow I will be even stronger.  Look out top of the podium!

Mom Making Sure All Riders Make It In
Mom Making Sure All Riders Make It In
Big Mountain Socks for a Big Climbing Day
Big Mountain Socks for a Big Climbing Day

Breck Epic Stage 2: Patience Young Grasshopper!

Morning nerves; thanks Mom for the great pic
Morning nerves; thanks Mom for the great pic

I was so excited for another day of this race that I didn’t sleep.  All night I fretted about my rebuilt shock, how much extra stuff to carry for endless flats, and how to refine my strategy.  Since I wasn’t sleeping I looked over my bike again, ate a monster breakfast three hours before the race start and was at the start line (to make sure I was not 200 deep) before the race officials even showed up.  Nerves.  Mom took a picture of me heading out that I am sharing so you can laugh.  She also said I, “looked scary” meaning it as a compliment (she also thought the gel packets hidden under my kit leg cuffs were my bulging muscles). 

I survived the mountain bike peloton up the road for the first three miles, this must be the same as riding in the crash-four group as a road racer, and was relieved to hit the dirt and get spread out on Heinous Hill climb.  I was surprised at how strong I felt early in the race, but that was not to last.  Mile 16 to 19 we climbed over 2000 feet to top out at 11200 and I was the turtle not the hare.  I did put some good distance on Amy (race leader) but on the descent she passed me never to be seen again.  My pace was sustainable, I was taking in calories like a metronome but still had minor cramp twinges at mile 28 reinforcing my attitude to have patience with the race and ride my race. 

Todays menu
Todays menu

I am a power house and (not to brag) can drop just about anyone on a climb if I want to.  In a stage race doing this will gobble up your glycogen (what fuels your muscles) and it takes days to replenish so your legs are cooked for the rest of the race.  It is taking Yoda whispering in my ear to keep me from powering up to drop a rider just because I can.  Who knew I had so much ego!  Fortunately the sage Emma gets to chat with other riders on climbs, take in the views and get some air on the flow trails as we descend back into town. 

I finished the day moving into second place overall, but lost a few minutes to Amy.  Tomorrow is the Queen Stage featuring a climb over 12,000 ft, biking through snow, climbing over 12,000 ft again, descending through bear territory, a wall (but it’s short? What is short 38 miles in and having climbed 6800 ft already?), and then my Mom will be at the finish line volunteering for the race.  Epic.