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.
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)***
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.
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.
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.
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
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.***