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.

 

Sea Otter, oh Sea Otter!

Sea Otter Pro XC RocksI’ve been on the road for the past few weeks to explore some new bike terrain (Reno, NV and Santa Cruz, CA), kick off my 2016 cross country race season and the grand finale of my travels was to Sea Otter Classic; and it was icing on the cake!

Minibike Pump Track Shenanigans
Minibike Pump Track Shenanigans

Sea Otter Classic is bike racing, bike showcase, bike silliness, bike inspiration, bike awe, bike bliss.  There are races for all categories and ages in road, cyclocross, and mountain biking (cross country, enduro, DH and Dual Slalom). Thursday through Sunday from 7am to 6pm races are starting and finishing on the Laguna Seca race track that surrounds the festival venue and extends through the hillside and surrounding Monterey oceanfront.  Constantly there is a racer zooming by in kit spandex or bright baggies to cheer on. The infield venue is a state fair for bikes: bike industry booths showing off their new goodies, clinics to dial in your Fox suspension, head out on the trails with your bike idols for some tips, samples of Clif Bars new nut butter filled riding snacks, eat the lunch Skratch Labs makes for their Grand Tour riders , yoga classes taught by trials rider pro Ryan Leach, meet and greet (and pound a beer) with Missy Giove, “bike side-shows” where you can race the pump track on a minibike, a business suit up commuter crit, and that is just the stuff on the program! There is something for all bike passions and you will have a hard time leaving not having found a new one.

Bike Goodies Galore
Bike Goodies Galore

But, I was there to race in the largest pro women’s field in the USA.  This year Sea Otter Classic hosted the second stage of the Pro XC US Cup, a HC rated UCI cross country race (highest level of international racing except the World Cup) so the best of the best from all over the world (even Ren Changyuan, the Chinese National Champion, made the trip over the Pacific) were in town to crush.  Pre-riding the course on Thursday was like a reunion; getting to catch up ladies far and wide I see only at races and big bike events.  We discussed road tactics for the big speedway climb out of the stadium, merits of the high line exiting the rock garden, how to lose the least speed through the barrier s-turn as well as sharing news of pregnancies (yeah Joy!) and whose home town is building new trails. It was obvious the course would be very fast giving the advantage to a rider in peak fitness over a technically strong gal. 

Dual Slalom - WOW!
Dual Slalom – WOW!

Friday morning was the short track race; an urban bike style mile long loop through the venue over bridges, gravel pits, and around cement barriers where we race for 20 minutes plus three laps.  More than sixty women lined up to roller derby style race.  This being my second ever short track race I wanted to get in the mix but stay safe and learn more about tactics for future races.  My bars were smacked, my wheels rammed and my ribs shoved; only my hair was not pulled nor was I bit! I was caught up in a big crash over the bridge where ten more seasoned racers jumped over the pile of riders cyclocross style (clearly I have some new skills to hone).  The race was exciting and just as quick as it started it was over.  I was pretty pleased with my finishing position and now feel I understand short track racing well enough to really put the hurt on next time. 

The course was beautiful, too bad I was not looking around while racing.
The course was beautiful, too bad I was not looking around while racing.

Saturday was my big event, the Pro XC!  All nerves I went into the flower studded hillside and loosened up by doing a few loose gravel bike handling drills and slowly raising my heart rate.  Once warmed up, I pedaled a chill lap on the course to see how the terrain had changed with a day of riders previewing it and the eBike race using part of it on Friday.  Call ups felt like being at the Oscars with the top thirty girls getting their race pedigrees announced as they took the line.  I took my position near the back of the pack knowing my job was to get to the front early on the race track climb to be clear of crashes that are inevitable in such a big field.  I was too successful and halfway up the climb I found myself in the front row.  In a rookie moment I panicked and let off the gas a quarter turn.  That was all it took to be swarmed by twenty riders.  Dough!!! That mistake marooned me between the two big groups of riders climbing into a headwind.  I just regained the lead pack at the rock garden and was behind two girls who crashed.  I was forced to stop and another ten girls went right by me.  As the laps progressed I moved forward in position cheered on by spectators at every course twist and turn.  On my fifth lap some guy tried to give me an ice cream cone; it was so hot out and looked so delicious I would have taken it if I wasn’t breathing so hard.  Six laps in blazing speed.  I was happy with my early season result and it will be a spring board for the rest of my season.  I made a few tactical, mechanical and mental mistakes and my fitness is in it’s infancy as the snow is just starting to melt in Bend, OR.  So there is much room for improvement.  I can’t wait for the next US Cup race in June to see what I can do!

Bike Show Awe
Bike Show Awe

With my Sea Otter Classic race over I got to savor the show.  I had a brawny WD-40 guy wash my bike, lounged at Fluid with ice cool recovery beverage, heard the race antics of some junior racers I work with (seriously check your hydration pack for rocks if you are racing DH) and spectated the Dual Slalom with my mouth agape.  Fun.  Sea Otter is a marriage of everything awesome bike and you want to be a part of all of it.  I’ll be there again next year camping up on the hill with some amazing industry folks, so put it on your 2017 calendar and join me.