MTB stage racing takes riders back to the roots of the sport. Expect big loops on the best trails in the area and be ready for an epic day on the bike! Self-support skills are mandatory: ability to fix a mechanical on the trail, route finding (courses are flagged, but they often get removed by […]
I was recently in Southern Utah, escaping winter and mountain biking the fun technical trails in the area. Taking the easy return to work a technical feature I was dumbfounded when I had to put a foot down. I was nailing big lines all day, and this spot was green terrain. What happened? I broke rule #1 for riding ANY obstacle. Can you see what I did?
Do you see it? No? Watch again.
Rule # 1: Look where you want to go, not at where you don’t.
When I teach skill clinics or work one-on-one with mountain bikers I preach that following this rule will-
- get you out of most “bad” situations
- get you riding obstacles you are getting stuck in the middle of
- make your air time comfortable
- let you carry speed with confidence
- (just to name a few)
I have found that this one “trick” is the first thing to try when a rider is not having success with almost any mtb skill. I regularly run ahead on a line, wave my arms, and yell, “look at me” to help riders keep their gaze ahead. When riding into something unexpected or too fast; looking for the clean exit ups the odds to getting through. If you can do more, that’s great; but in a pinch this is the most bang for your buck trick.
Why does this work?
- Your body will follow your focus; driving your bike to that destination.
- Look at that stump/boulder/cliff/etc. = ride directly into it
- Look at the ideal exit = bike will move under you, not into that scary thing (usually)
- When you look down your center of gravity moves over your front wheel. Being heavy on the front tire encourages it to:
- get buried in divots
- stop when it drops in a divot or on the backside of a rock
- slide out on corners or loose terrain
- slow down more than expected (touching the brakes = endo*)
- Looking at the exit of an obstacle or a corner, and scanning ahead for the trail keeps your center of gravity over the bottom bracket (place where the pedal crank-arms attach to the frame). This allows you to:
- drive the bike forward – avoiding face-plants, maintaining traction and carrying speed out of corners
- stay light on your handlebars so you can maneuver your bike if it starts to stray
- lets you put power to your pedal if you need to get over a rock/root/snake/etc.
- roll over and away from drops
Breaking rule #1 happens to the best of us. Adherence will advance your riding and give a higher probability of a good outcome when you make a mistake. Breaking it may be the cause for mishaps on the trail and diminishing confidence. Being aware of how this played into your, “I can’t believe I just rode that” or, “oomph, that didn’t go as planned” is a big part of progressing. But, be gentle on yourself; we all break the rules now and then.
*Endo: a sudden stopping of the front tire of a bicycle resulting in the rider face-planting in front of the bike as the rear wheel flies into the air.
I’m home from Jasper, Alberta where Frosty’s Fat Bike XC and 50K races were held. With an Arctic flow consuming the Canadian Rockies I knew my week there would be spent in daytime negative digit temperatures. I will admit, I was daunted by this. In preparation for my trip I reached out to Karen Jarkow who won Fat Bike World Championships in 2017 in -25 Fahrenheit, my coach who has athletes in the Upper Peninsula and train outside year-round, and a friend who races JP’s Fat Bike Pursuit successfully every year. I spent the weeks leading up to my trip experimenting with apparel and gear (see my blog) and I arrived in a snow storm and -22 Fahrenheit temps (before wind chill). Game on!
I was hosted by Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge for the week, which let me fine tune my equipment, clothing and nutrition strategies before the three days of races and events began. I had several surprises and a steep learning curve but marked success by:
- Racing an XC in -18 Fahrenheit and not being cold at the finish
- Finishing the 50K race not regretting my clothing and (most) of my equipment choices
- Being one of the few not to leave with frostbite
“It’s all about the tires”
You hear this all the time from fat bikers, but how your bike engages with the snow is the difference between floating across terrain or sinking so deep your axels are at snow level. My “must have” tires for any snow condition are Kenda Tire Juggernaut 4.8’s. They always find traction, roll fast on hard pack, and have a sidewall that allows for even spreading of the tread across the snow. I spend the first few minutes of any ride adjusting my tire pressure. My start-point is generally 3PSI in the front and 3.5PSI in the rear.
Tubeless tires may fail in extreme cold. Alloy rims conduct heat well, meaning they quickly give any heat they have in them to the snow. Rubber contracts a little in very cold conditions. Sealant is water based which may freeze and expand. The increased space between your rim and tire may be too big a feat for your sealant to hold together and sealant that is normally sloshing around to fill the gap is a solid mass. If in doubt, a tubed heavy wheel is faster than potholing in snow with a 35Lb bike on your shoulder. I did this. Twice.
- If you adjust your PSI in a warm place, like
your condo, when you go outside in very cold temps the pressure will lower more. It’s easier to reduce pressure after you have been out for 20 minutes than to add it back, so head out with more pressure than you think you will want.
- Even if the snow is hard packed or groomed, very cold temperatures take the moisture out of snow and it starts to behave like sugar. As more people spin through the sugar bowl it starts to become bottomless. Run a low PSI as if you were in a little fresh powder.
Frostbite is not a love-bite
In extreme cold, frostbite can happen in just a few minutes, especially if the wind is blowing, if you are wet from sweat, or if skin is exposed even briefly as when taking a glove off to open a snack. A solid layering solution that prevents wind from getting in but allows moisture to escape is a must.
- Your face, especially around your nose and mouth are hard to keep covered when breathing hard. I coat my face in Joshua Tree’s Winter Stick balm. The beeswax base prevents moisture from direct contact to my skin, has SPF, will not easily rub off, and if you get some in your mouth it has not taste or strange chemicals like Dermatome does.
- Hands need to be bundled up, but not so
much that you can’t maneuver your levers to shift or brake. BarMitts are basically mandatory. I put heat packs in the BarMitts and turn them into an oven.
- Feet are notoriously hard to keep warm while cycling. I have had several pairs of winter riding boots, and I believe Lake Cycling MXZ303 is the best out there. They are warm, waterproof and windproof while being just breathable enough to prevent your feet from wading in a sweat bog. They adjust by a Boa system, so the fit will never put too circulation reducing pressure on any part of your foot and all sizes are available wide. Most the Canadians were wearing these too.
It is easy to think you will keep your feet warm with more socks. However, pressure on your foot from being squished under several socks will reduce foot circulation and cause your feet to cool down. I experimented one day in Jasper and wore a thin wool sock on one foot and two on the other and went for a ride. The double sock foot chilled a bit, and the single one was comfortable.
- I backed-up my warm feet strategy by rigging my ski boot heaters to my boots. I ended up only using them to prewarm my boots, my feet were toasty when riding without the added heat, but they worked quite well.
When it’s cold, you desire to eat and drink is meh’ at best. However, just keeping warm consumes a lot of calories. Not to mention you are exercising! Liquids freeze. Hydration and nutrition is a bit of a conundrum.
Put edibles in your BarMitt ovens. The heat packs will keep them from becoming solid, so you won’t break a tooth trying to gnaw on your Honey Stinger Waffle.
- Water bottles upside down in the bottle cage will work for the beginning of your outing.
- I found an Osprey hydration vest works best for me. I put it over my first base layer and under all others. The nozzle I run under my neck gator. My body heat keeps the liquids from freezing.
- When I’m done drinking, I make sure to blow some air into the tube so the bit that is exposed does not have liquid to freeze.
- If the nozzle does freeze, putting it in your mouth (like biting a stick) will melt it in a minute or two.
This trick came from my coach at CTS, but I put 1oz of liquor in 1.5L hydration bladder. This lowers the freezing point but is not enough to be impaired.
- I found putting my nutrition in my water was the best strategy to keep me fueled AND hydrated. I favorite blend was GQ-6 green apple Hydrate Base, a dash of cinnamon, and whiskey mixed into hot water. It tasted like hot apple cider.
- Increase your hourly calorie replacement by 100 Kcal or more. I weigh 125Lbs and consumed 400 Kcal/hr during the 50K race and was still ravenous for lunch. And then second lunch.
Odds and Ends
Your iPhone is good for 1-2 pictures before the battery is drained. I put heat packs in my internal pocket that held my phone and it would warm up enough to take another 1-2 pictures 30 min. later. Point is, ride with lots of friends and have one person take a picture at any stop and share your images and/or only take the amazing shots.
- My Shimano XT disk brakes worked better than I expected in the extreme cold. To keep the brake fluid viscous, I pumped my brakes a few times every 20 min. And remember, you are riding in snow. I scrub speed most of
the time by nudging my tires into the soft edges of the groomed trails, avoiding touching my brakes all together.
- My seat post clamp is alloy. As it became brittle, my carbon fiber seat post would lower in my downtube. I had to stop and raise it several times during the 50K. If I had refreshed the carbon fiber paste it would not have been a problem.
- Access to a hot tub or bath is essential. As soon as I got back to my condo I took a hot bath to restore my core temperature. It will gobble up all your energy trying to rewarm otherwise; leaving you a zombie at post ride festivities and not letting your body recover to head out the next day.
Now that you have all the tools to ride in extreme cold AND have fun, don’t gloat to your friends when they are suffering. Remember, misery loves company. Better yet, be a real friend and share these tips with them before you head out on a chilly adventure. Please share your new-found tricks with me too. I’m headed back to Frosty’s in Jasper next year!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.***
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
First 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.
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.
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.
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!
One of my favorite local trails finally emerged from the snow, and this morning I gave it a pedal. I was going fast – really fast. And I felt perfect flow with the terrain, not like I was risking life and limb. I figured I have just forgotten what it feels like to rip a favorite trail since winter in Bend, OR has been one of those, “100-year winters,” and time on the mountain bike has been sparse. Once home I loaded my ride data and, sure enough, I was riding that trail faster than I ever have before… even faster than that time I chased a Pro gravity dude down it (dumb; don’t do that!) and was sure I would either hit a tree or break my frame.
So, what changed? Time away from a technical sport leaves me rusty and needing a few weeks of “back to the basics” drills and practice to get my form in shape. On my ride I was practicing the nuts and bolts of riding with flow: dynamic body positioning, scanning ahead and momentum management. This cobweb-clearing should not have added up to a blistering pace on wiggly and sporadically technical single track. I was puzzled.
After a hot shower and a good lunch, I sat down for my daily meditation session. I reluctantly started meditating this winter as recommended by my physician to help manage my insomnia. Meditation is helping me reign in my wandering mind. In my practice today I did not do such a great job at keeping my thoughts on task. On one of my brain’s ambles it struck me that concentration was the new driver to my speed. Focus. On my ride this morning my mind gave undivided attention to the terrain as it approached. Thoughts about my to-do list, what I want for dinner, or if my Dads birthday present will arrive on time did not pop up to distract me. Nothing existed but the task at hand. Meditation: my new secret training tool.
Want to give it a try? I started by downloading some free meditation apps. I like Calm and Head Space. They both have an intro-to-meditation series, and each lesson is only 10 minutes long. That’s it. That will get you started. It’s a low time commitment, has nothing to do with religion, and you can do it anywhere (even at a quiet place along the trail). Meditate, and go faster.
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!