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!

 

Missoula XC With Unwanted Teammates: How Amoebas On Board Don’t Make You Faster

Start of the U23 Men
Start of the U23 Men

I am drenched, huddled under a pine tree hoping not to get struck by lightning and watching my bike get pelted by hail.  My warm-up now abandoned, I can only plead for the thunderstorm to pass by and am thinking of a new selling point for super-light carbon bikes: less metal to attract lightning! Frightened? Yes, but it is hard not to laugh that THIS STORM, not the saga of the past week, may cause me to miss the start of my race: the Missoula Pro XC.

 

I want to win one of these so badly! (Don't worry, Ben said they are from roadkill.)
I want to win one of these so badly! (Don’t worry, Ben said they are from roadkill.)

I LOVE the Missoula XC.  This course is the real deal – a monster climb with switchbacks so tight and steep that I have put a foot down in fatigue, a descent dappled with off camber water bars in the middle of steep corners and opportunities to get some air with an audience.  While racing, there is an announcer broadcasting the play by play to a large crowd that is cheering you on.  And this year the race is the last chance for racers to vie for a spot on the USA Olympic team.  The racers are hungry, it is going to be game on and I can’t wait to play!

The "Bull" Ramp
The “Bull” Ramp

The last two weeks in preparation for this race has been a disaster.  I’ve been pretty miserable with abdominal pain that I could not sort out causing me to forgo my training and most food.  My “stomach bug” symptoms waxed and waned, but three days before the race my health was pretty bleak and I found myself at Instacare. Unsure of what was going on, but confident I was not terminal, my Doc sent me on the road to Montana with pending lab results and a recommendation to purge my digestive tract.  On my arrival to the race venue I had a message saying I was not dying, but have giardia.

Brandon of Summit Bike Club made sure I would have my smallest gear to climb. THANKS!!!

What is giardia?  It’s a water born amoeba contracted by drinking contaminated water.  I have absolutely no idea how I got it.  I have only been drinking city water in the past few months, have not been doing open water swims due to the very cold spring in Oregon, but maybe I got a splash in my mouth while grinning as I biked across a creek? The critters invade your intestines and ferment your food making you burp, fart, cramp and have frothy poo.  Did I mention I’m camping at the race venue?  Port-o-pottys? A gnarly antibiotic course will make me healthy but I have a big race in less than forty eight hours.

No, not to disinfect me! This is a brilliant way to wash your bike at a race.
No, not to disinfect me! This is a brilliant way to wash your bike at a race.

My dilemma: do I postpone treatment so I can try to race with symptoms I am familiar with or do I start antibiotics and hope they get me feeling well enough that the medication-induced nausea can be overlooked?  I feel so lousy I can’t imagine a big physical effort unless my symptoms lessen and in the last week I’ve eaten less than a roadie; my energy reserves won’t last more than twenty minutes at race pace unless I can keep some food down.

Racers zooming by my campsite

I chose to start treatment believing my symptoms were so terrible (and worsening by the hour) that I was not going to be able to race without intervention.  Being out of state it took some crafty work and kind medical professionals to get meds in my hands by mid-day Friday (28 hours to start time).  I then raided the local grocery for calorie dense but bland foods: chicken broth, rice crackers, ginger ale and plant based protein drinks foods.  Yum!  Just what every elite athlete wants to eat in preparation for a big race.

Bye-Bye Giardia
Bye-Bye Giardia

Antibiotic are MAGIC! In eighteen hours my symptoms are manageable, I’m getting some nutrition in, and a good night of sleep camping at Marshal Mountain has made me hopeful enough to warm-up for my race.  If it goes well I’ll take the start line and see if I can tick off a few laps of the race before I blow through all my glycogen reserves and my muscles simply stop.  And this is why it is so ironic that I may miss my race due to a storm.  I’m a twenty minute pedal away from the start line on single track overlooking the Clark River and if the storm does not pass in a few more minutes I won’t make it.

I'm suffering but totally stoked to be RACING
I’m suffering but totally stoked to be RACING

The Gods smile on me; the storm clears as abruptly as it swept in.  I warm up by sprinting to the start line.  I made it with enough time to towel the mud off my face and look composed for call ups.  The race starts in true Montana style with a rifle discharging into the hillside.  My start is slow, but by the time we hit the single track I’m in a good position on the wheels of the girls I expect to be on the podium.  But that glory was not to be mine today and half way up the first climb I fell off the pace.  I was passed by Hannah but felt good at the bottom of the first lap.  How could this be? I’m heading out for my second lap.  Better slurp down a gel.  Two laps become three and in disbelief I pass Hannah (despite my unwanted amoeba teammates hitching a ride) and am on track to beat the time cut-offs.  Lap four is not so peppy but I am ahead of the cut and with a huge smile, not stomach cramps, I race the final lap!  Just getting to race was a huge win for me, finishing the race was beyond my dreams.  I was so spent afterwards I almost fell off my bike when I tried to spin out my legs.  I try a real meal; chicken noodle soup!  And then a whole bag of rice cakes.  And then a box of graham crackers.  And then another can of soup. And then… I passed out before 8:30pm with the loud speakers announcing the single-speed race and keg toss like a lullaby.  Never fear, more food was in store.  I was wide awake at midnight and starving.  I actually got up and made another dinner: pasta with salt and butter.  I was starving for breakfast too.

Local love, I made the papers! Whoo hoo.
Local love, I made the papers! Whoo hoo.

This race was not the “shot at the podium” that I had hoped it would be, but I left satisfied and stoked at how well I did.  Managing my health, being optimistic but realistic about my situation, and focusing on the possibilities ensured I had a fantastic experience.  Now onto Angel Fire XC next week to see how much strength I can recoup with my amoebic hitchhikers discarded!  Ladies, look out.