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 withSummit 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!
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.