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 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.

Not to Worry, I’ve Got MTB National Championship Smarts

Me, wiggling down the XC course
Me, wiggling down the XC course.

It’s so nice to not be a rookie at Mountain Bike National Championships this year.  Knowing WD-40 will wash my bike, Fox and SRAM will help me with mechanical issues, the bike paths are great to warm-up on, and that I’ve raced this course before gives my confidence a huge boost.  Mammoth is a beautiful town to visit, making it hard to stay on my racer regime: strict food means no dining out at the cute restaurants, saving my legs means not exploring all the bike trails, and resting up means going to bed early instead of whooping it up at the bars.   Not that the racers life in Mammoth is a drag by any means: boosting my energy at Stellar Brewing with a banana chai, icing my legs in a high mountain lake, and catching up with friends while watching dual slalom is pretty cool. 

A cheer, a demand.
A cheer, a demand.

I took the XC start line feeling great!  I’m finally recovered from giardia and have had a week of good training and eating well before arriving the night before the race.  I really like the course: a climb with lots of good passing options and friendly less steep sections to catch your breath after particularly vertical zones, and the descent features tight burms around trees at the top then a series of drops and rock gardens as the bottom.  Though loose and powdery mid-summer, I feel confident in my traction (with WTB Trail Boss tires that are a bit over-kill but confidence is magic) so the drift is not a concern of mine.  Call ups (with the US Olympic Team Members called first – so cool to race with them) then the gun!

U23 Men suffering mid-race
U23 Men suffering mid-race

I had a terrible start.  I missed my clip in so I had to do another pedal stroke at half speed to get into my pedals; an error that put me toward the back of the pack.  Not to worry, there was a clear line along the fencing to get me back in position.  As I moved into the hole, a nervous rider next to me hit me.  Not to worry, I’m comfortable with some race rubbing and had just enough room to correct myself next to the fencing.  But then a spectator leaned over the fencing with his camera and I hit him.  Crash!  I’m not sure if the spectator was okay, he just apologized to me as I got up and made sure my bike and body were no worse for the impact.  Not to worry, Dirt Ninja (my bike) and I were fine; back to work.  So fifty feet from the start line I was already a minute back from the pro women field.  Not to worry (my mantra), the race is long and I can get back in the game if I am smart.  Smart means not panicking, not sprinting up the mountain at top speed, not blowing myself up in the first twenty minutes of a two hour race.  Trusting my fitness and skills I caught up to the back of the women.  Patience.  I waited for good passing opportunities; it is easy to exert a lot of energy getting around a racer at an inopportune location (as I did last year on this course only to be repassed and dropped like a hot potato a few minutes later).  At the top of the climb I had worked my way to the front of the chase pack.  I wanted to be with the lead pack but they were nowhere in sight. 

Flying over is always faster than bouncing over.
Flying over is always faster than bouncing over.

Over the five laps of the race I kept my riding steady and smooth.  My climbs were consistent, though two girls did get around me later in the race, and my descents were fast and had me gaining on the other riders (or stuck behind them without an opportunity to pass) each round.  I am disappointed that I finished twelfth when I had expectations of a better showing, but am very happy at how I handled my disastrous start.  Maybe one of my favorite things about mountain bike racing is that on any day, it is any girls race.  A mechanical, bad hand-up or even a bad hair day can tip the scales in favor of a rider not expected to take the day.  It is how a racer responds to mishaps that makes them great; so today my greatness may not come with accolades, but pride that I raced a smart race.  Now to recover for tomorrows televised short track race (Pro Women STXC starts at the hour mark)!

Junior Men on STXC
Junior Men on STXC
Unexpected Victory Celebration
Unexpected Victory Celebration
Spectator view
Spectator view
I "rested up" watching Dual Slalom.
I “rested up” watching Dual Slalom.
Top of the Elevator Shaft on the downhill course
Top of the Elevator Shaft on the downhill course
Coach Chris B keeping me up to date on the gravity results. (His kids are both National Champs now!)
Coach Chris B keeping me up to date on the gravity results. (His kids are both National Champs now!)
My friend Hailey bringing it home.
My friend Hailey bringing it home.
Course preparations keeping the courses perfect.
Keeping the courses perfect.

Hopi Gods at the Chile Challenge Pro XC

Start line nerves
Start line nerves

In the depths of winter when my trails were buried under feet of snow I began putting my 2016 race season together.  It was with utter delight that I saw a new UCI race venue; Angel Fire New Mexico!  I grew up in northern NM and my parents still live in Santa Fe.  I could not pass up the opportunity to race in the southern Rockies, have my parents cheer me on, and eat some red chile.  I think I was the first woman to register for the race.

Camping at the yurt

Recovering from the Missoula XC and giardia, I took the scenic road to New Mexico staying in a yurt outside of Pocatello, ID, catching up with my sister in UT, and finally returning to the high desert of my youth.  Of course I stopped for blue corn enchiladas shortly after I crossed the state line.  (Giardia is not a fan of spicy food…)

My folks met me in Angel Fire with their sweet camper van, which was a welcome refuse from the thunderstorms.  My mom made sure I was regaining my strength

The fray to start the single track from the start
The fray to start the single track from the start

by preparing feasts and my Dad (a former cyclist) actually enjoyed talking to me about all things bike race that can put the

So HOT in Utah!

most obsessed bike enthusiast asleep. Friday morning I pedaled to the ski hill to pre-ride the XC course and check out the Pro GRT (downhill) seating runs.  Angel Fire has hosted DH events for a few years and has a reputation for being a burley course so I was excited to gawk at the feats of gravity defying bike handling by over 70 pro downhillers.  Wow.

Rallying. Grinning.
Rallying. Grinning.

The new UCI XC course at Angel Fire was a dream for me.  A burley climb gaining 600 ft. in the first mile, a burmed descent through the ponderosas with two jumps near the bottom, and two very short sections of double track.  The course would require patience and strategy to pass, the climb would spread the racers out, and the descent will make you grin.  A perfect

Get your chili fix in Taos

course for me!  My health was finally coming around and I had a solid training plan to account for the torturous altitude of the venue: 8500 ft. at the base of the ski hill. 

Umpoinaqa, the Hopi Thunder God, must have been happy to have me back on New Mexico soil because the rain stopped

Done!
Done!

for the Pro Women XC race.  Chloe set a blazing pace off the start line, showing us what it takes to be an Olympic Team Member, and I chased.  I was in great position on the first climb in eyesight of Chloe, but somehow the pace picked up for the second lap and I was at my max.  I fell back a few positions but felt strong in my third lap.  But as I headed out for my

Umpoinaqa, the Hopi Thunder God

fourth lap, Koshari, the Hopi Clown God, tacked a parachute to my shoulders making the climb brutal.  My breath was rapid and deep, but my low elevation heart could not get enough oxygen to my burning legs.  My pace slowed, but the other women were suffering too and I gained on Hannah W. ahead of me.  As we approached the top of the climb I could

Short track zoom
Short track zoom

accelerate and pass her, but decided the effort might tap my reserve and she could pick me off in the final climb, so I stuck to her wheel on the descent to pass on the next climb.  But pass I could not!  The fifth and final lap was an effort in consistency and looking forward to my family waiting for me at the finish line. 

Koshare, the Hopi Clown God

The Chile Challenge course made for easy spectating, my parents were able to see a grueling part of the climb and an open section of the descent where riders caught a little air over a jump into a burm.  I prepped them with info on the other women; like who they ride for, who I admired and who I had my eye on to be shoulder to shoulder with.  My Mom cheered

My pit crew: Mom and Dad
My pit crew: Mom and Dad

for my friends with such enthusiasm her cowbell blistered her palm.  My Dad offered a critique of my start and had some tactical suggestions for future races.  And on Sunday they got whiplash watching the Short Track race zooming around the ski base.  Having a team to support you is pretty fantastic!

Tsil, Hopi Runner God

It was not until I reflected on my race did I realize this was the first Pro UCI race where I was not worried about making the lap cut-offs, instead I was focused on strategy and managing my effort.  This is a huge milestone.  Now to get completely healthy and crush at National Championships in three weeks (after I devour huevos rancheros (Christmas) like I was caught by Tsil, the Hopi Runner God who will chase you and pour chili powder in your mouth if he catches you.

The BreckEpic Project

breck epic licence plateI am a cross country mountain bike racer.  My races are two hour sprints on trails.  Strategy choices play out in minutes.  A mechanical is a DNF.  I don’t even slow to slurp down a gel mid-race.  Fast, intense, then over just like that.  I love them.  However, I’ve listened to friends gush and groan about their longer race escapades.  Tales of finishing a stage with a duct taped derailleur, eating Twinkies at mile 42, taking pictures at a vista and still landing on the podium.  This is a world so foreign to me, so curious and seductive I have to give it a try.  So I signed up to race the BreckEpic in August in blissful ignorance of what is involved to do an event like this one.

The BreckEpic is a six day, mountain bike stage race in the mountains around Breckenridge Colorado.  Each day features a BIG ride of 30-50 miles of single track and climbs topping out over 13,000 ft.  This is a very different mountain bike race than the Pro XC format I focus on where my race is 105 minutes of sprinting on a 5 KM loop.  I’m nervous.  I’m excited.  I have a lot to learn to be successful.  So come along for the ride.  I’m going to share my learning curve, you can be my teammate, and maybe my antics will inspire you to do a stage race too!

Project Proposal: BreckEpic 2016

Goal:  To race and complete the Breck Epic 2016 as a solo rider.

Demands:

  • 6 back to back days of hard mountain bike riding
  • 30 – 60 mile days taking an average of 5 hours of pedaling
  • Climbing an average of 6200 ft each day
I'll bike up and down all of these peaks. WOW!
I’ll bike up and down all of these peaks. WOW!

Steps to Success:

  • Equipment
    • Bike
    • Self-support Supplies
    • Drop Bags
  • Fueling
    • Pre-race
    • During
    • Post-race
  • Recovery
  • Fitness
    • Back to back days
    • Long days
    • Big elevation gains
    • Riding at serious elevation
  • The Unknown (???)

Project Completion Date: August 14-19, 2016

Who should I have called? Ghost Busters!

65324629-_T7O7051(1)Slimed. Yup, Slimer had his eye on me at the US Cup Pro XC this past weekend. I pedaled (and ran) my bike up muddy hills and through grass lagoons, but Slimer got me anyways. The savvy biker kitted up in their ghost suit, powered up the photon beam, and was afraid of no ghost. Me? I didn’t think ghosts existed and got slimed!

This past weekend I kicked off my 2016 cross country racing season at Bonelli Park outside of Los Angeles. I knew the race would draw big talent, but I had no idea the Argentine National Team would be there, or the Chinese National Champion to name a few. I was star struck the moment I saw the start list and it was a huge start list! I have dreamed of being at a start line with 50 women, and the race plates went to 59. 59!

STXC 1
Exiting the lawn lagoon on the STXC

I was overly confident coming off my Fat Bike Nationals victory and for not being a rookie this year at UCI races. Relaxed is a good thing, but I must have been in denial at what this field of women were capable of. It was pouring rain in SoCal with flood warnings every day. I thought it was always sunny in SoCal (I packed lots of sunscreen, two pairs of sunglasses and a bikini) so I completely neglected to prepare for the conditions. I kept thinking NOAA was mistaken but on Saturday I took the start line in the rain for an up and down, up and down, up and down course that kept you pedaling the whole time as the mud was forming a slick akin to Exxon Valdese.

Call-ups put me in the last row of contestants, and with a whistle a hundred wheels burned rubber and handlebars clashed across the line. The mud slicks caused pile-ups early on and I was caught up in several. Separated from the main pack I soon began to give the mud too much respect. Yes, my tires were the absolute opposite of what you wanted for the day, but I am a strong technical rider and relying on good technique and grit should have kept me sailing through the slime. Instead I looked like I needed a chaperone on the off camber traverse above cacti and forgot how to lean my bike on tapped lawn turns. I did crush the short rock downhill, running it more direct each lap. Then, I was pulled before the last lap. I was stunned. I made a few strategic errors in the first lap, rode too conservatively on the mud flats, wasted energy speeding up and slowing down in a reactive fashion, and was not a good pre-race mechanic for myself. I was disappointed in my performance. This was the biggest show I’ve been a part of and I didn’t completely show up. What?

Room for improvement!

STXC 2
Crossing the short track finish line

Lucky for me on Sunday was the short track race (STXC). I’ve not raced one, but was excited to learn what this format was all about, and it was a chance to get my preparations right! I showed up early with my training wheels (hard-pack race tread but wider than my race wheel tires) and a pressure gauge to dial in my tire pressure for the conditions. I adjusted my suspension to be a bit slower so it would stay connected with the mud. I envisioned the course in my head; riding it perfectly and with total confidence my tires would stay connected. I took the start line sweaty and ready to jump into the lead pack from my back of the pack start position. At go I turned my photon beam on! I was in the middle of the lead pack rubbing elbows and wheels for the first two laps. I even passed one of the Team Luna girls (she passed me later in a smart tactical move) and was proud of how I anticipated the pack maneuvers while giving it my full effort. I was sure the race was almost over and let my gaze stray for a moment to my Garmin and saw we were only half way through the race. Half way! I was ejected by the pack and lost the draft effect to time trial my last laps. I gave it my all, felt elated by my first short track race, and I got my race self back!

Lucky me (again). Next week is the Sea Otter Classic where I’ll race the cross country like I mean it and get to play short track strategy with a little mileage under my belt. Look out ladies, I called Ghost Busters!