“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.***

Advertisements

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 4: Doh!

My favorite finish line snack: banana slathered in peanut butter and topped with a crispy piece of bacon.
My favorite finish line snack: banana slathered in peanut butter and topped with a crispy piece of bacon.

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!

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.

BreckEpic Stage 1: The race is long, take your time.

Stage 1 Map
Up, and then up, and then up some more

Stage racing is the real deal; no wonder the road scenes crown jewels are the grand tours.  We lined up is a grand mess with no regard to category for a neutral start with a police escort up the pavement until we hit the trails.  This should have spread the race out a bit, but there were a lot of nerves urging many people to sprint.  After a flowy descent (stuck behind a team of guys who insisted on zipping ahead of me as we approached the trail but didn’t have the descending skills to match their enthusiasm) the real climbing began on two track and the field finally spread out. 

My plan for day one was to stay in the middle of the open women, to copy their pace and learn how they managed aid stations and working with other riders.  However, with a mass start I didn’t even know how many women were in my category, let alone know who they were; so I relied on an even pace I knew I could sustain all day (which had me walk a few loose hills I could have ridden but my legs would have been on fire) and forcing myself to consume 100 calories every 20 minutes and electrolytes on the hour.  I took my time at the aid stations to restock my supplies and devour a banana.

There are at least 200 people behind me, what a line-up
There are at least 200 people behind me, what a line-up

I felt strong and was breathing with ease as I crested the last big climb and had been informed at the last aid station I was the first female!  I was STOKED, the day could be mine.  And then I flatted on a relatively smooth fire road.  My tire had a double puncture.  A nail?  Who knows.  I took my time and put a tube in after sealing the inside of my tire with a Gu packet.  The race is long, it is better to do things right instead of making a flustered mistake and getting another flat down the road.  (But I did realize my rookie mistake of not having a back-up tube and CO2 cartridge in my drop bags – I will remedy this for tomorrow.)  But as I was putting my tire back on I heard a whoosh.  Oh no!  I was confident I repaired my rear tire correctly.  It was not my tire but my rear shock decided right there to loose it’s seal and release all of it’s fluid.  No rear suspension – just a fully squished shock.  Nothing I could do about this but ride gently the remaining eleven miles to the finish, which was mostly downhill.  I rode smart: a bit slower and more conservative than I would have liked but I got to the finish without a hitch. 

Stage 1 PodiumSomehow I finished in third place today!  I’m thrilled to be on the podium, and think not having the pressure of the leaders jersey will be an advantage tomorrow.  SRAM generously spent the afternoon “fixing” my shock (fingers crossed) and fortunately I ride for Rolf Prima so I have a back-up set of wheels to ride tomorrow.  I now know I have what it takes to do well in a stage race, and success will come from being patient and sticking to my own plan.  Can’t wait for stage 2.

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.

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.