Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Paying It Forward in 2018

2017 has been a great year.  Even though I raced less, I had an absolute blast, met my expectations, and did not get injured (well, save for the back episode which caused a DNS at The Ozark Trail).  I also got to enjoy 3 1/2 weeks on a camp-about with my daughter ... which is priceless!  All my sponsors treated me like royalty, to which I can only say a deep and humble "Thank You!" and hope that I was able return their generosity by adding some new members to their respective tribes.

I was heartbroken when my LBS went out of business, but since have been taken in by Scott's Bicycle Center.  I am excited to be able to stay on as Ambassador to Industry 9, Christopher Bean Coffee, Chamois Butt'r, Endless Bike Co., and Xpedo.  I have yet to reconnect with Hand Up Gloves and Backcountry Research, but hoping they will be on board for 2018 as well.

New for 2018 is Revive Massage Therapy.  Virginia has been instrumental in my recovery process for the past 1 1/2 years.  She lives to learn and provide the best care for her clients.  And she enjoys working on athletes and improving their ability to perform and recover.

I am so happy to say that I have found a team for next year.  I am hopping aboard the Rescue Racing team where there mission is not only to make good bike race, but to raise awareness for spay/neuter, microchipping, pet rescue, and animal shelter support.

In additon, Industry 9 is stepping on board to provide tremendous support to the team.  I cannot say enough about this company and their willingness to provide support at a grassroots level.  But I think that they love our furry little companions as much as the Rescue Racing members do.

I had been thinking for the past couple years about what I could do to "pay it forward."  I wanted to tie it into my day job, but just did not have the energy or focus.  But since I have stepped down the intensity on racing a notch or two, the door has opened for me to put forth a little more time and effort in other areas.

So I have decided to give back to my community by offering free spay/neuter days.  My clinic is on board, as well as several of our drug companies.  My staff and I will be giving our time to perform the surgeries as well as offering other free services (exams, microchips, vaccines, heartworm and flea/tick preventatives) to those who can demonstrate a financial hardship.  I have been blessed with the support from the bike racing community and I want to be able to pass this on to those who love their furry companions as much as I, but may be going through a difficult time where they just cannot afford the proper health care for their pets.

It looks like 2018 is going to be a busy, busy year for me ... in a good way!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

12 Hours of the Hill of Truth Race Report

Hill of Truth -- The infamous powerline climb

I had signed up to race this solo.  This race had been my very first 12 hour race back in 2005.  Now in its 19th year, I was eager to get back.  The trail system at Haw Ridge is a spider web of amazing technical trails.  Each year the course is different.  I would go out and race until it wasn't fun any longer, pull the plug, and then hang out with friends.  Two days before I got a FB message from Missy, inviting me to join her and Elizabeth on their team, the YeeHaw Hawties.  It didn't didn't take much persuasion to hop aboard their train.

Three womens' teams signed up and this year was a record turn out with 150+ racers.  I suppose the warm and dry weather had something to do with it, but other factors included Jon and Kent's hard work ethic and the explosive growth of mountain biking in the Knoxville area.

The Hawties shared tent space with the Nox Composites team of Kaysee "the crusher", Cory "the conqueror", Wes "the SS slayer", and Brad "the equalizer."  I asked to do the first lap and didn't get any resistance.  Just a month or so ago, Zeke and I racked our brains trying to remember which race started with a cannon.  Question answered as I became tone deaf in my right ear!

Even though the pace was intense on the greenway, the legs were happy.  Diving into the woods on Soccer, I got caught up in a traffic jam, but by the time we hit the Lake Road kicker that was worthy of a #blamedanny (or, in this case, #blametodandkent) sign, it had thinned out enough to where I could settle into my own rhythm.

East Shore Trail

The course was faassst!  Even though there was some tight and twisty along the shoreline, the Lake, Middle, and Powerline were straight up highways where you could pick up some massive speed.  The Hill of Truth came and went pretty quickly, as I was fresh.  This is a nasty, 1/4 mile rock strewn and loose double track climb that got steeper at the top.  Then to throw salt in the wound, a hard left was followed by more climbing, which wasn't all that steep, but when you are gassed ...

New this year was a downhill option off of the Ridge Trail.  I could either take Low Gap, an old school fall line trail straight down or Washing Machine, a new flow trail with berms and jumps.  I am pretty sure everyone took Low Gap, as it was at least 2 1/2 minutes faster.  And for me, funner anyways.

Hitting Mike's Trail, I knew my lap was about over.  This is where I tried to kick it and finish hard.  I came rolling through, first woman through, and handed off the "baton," a small piece of laminated paper with a bar code, to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth finishing up her first lap.

I rolled over to our pits, shed some gear, ate some food, and sat and enjoyed my friends' company.  Elizabeth finished her blazing fast lap and sent Missy out on her gravity bike.  Talk about bringing a gun to a knife fight!  Have fun pedaling that up HOT, I thought.  But she still turned an amazing time!

Going out for my second lap, the legs barked all the way down the greenway.  Fortunately, by the time I hit the top of Soccer, they were game ready again.  Having no traffic in front of me, this lap felt faster than the first ... but it wasn't ... meh.   I definitely used less brake on Low Gap, as I G'd out on one of the dips at the bottom.  That trail was definitely the highlight of each lap.

After my second lap, I learned about the little set back with Kaysee's Nox Composite team.  Appeared as if Brad took a little detour and went off course.  Either that or he wanted to even the playing field by buying the team a 7.5 minute penalty.  I hated it for them, but if anyone could make up that time, they could.  Anyways, it was fun listening to them strategize for the remaining laps.

On my third lap, I had one goal ... not let Kaysee catch me.  I was hoping Missy would come in quickly, because I figured I needed at least a 4 minute buffer for me to succeed.  Oh, how I miss the days of yore when I was on top of my game and Kaysee was just getting into mountain bike racing.  Now, it is all I can do to stay within walkie-talkie distance of this shredder-slayer-crusher phenom!  Kaysee is most worthy of the "passing of the torch."

I don't know what hurt worse, the climbs or the flats.

So instead of just some steady spinning, I had to race like a scalded dawg! I thought my legs were never going to come around this time.  All those little punchy climbs grew.  The flat sections were also leg burners as I had to focus on turning those pedals over, TT style.  The Hill of Truth was baking in the sun by now and I felt the heat emanate off the rocks and dirt.  I was glad to be able to dive back into the woods.  But then the sun was casting rays of light directly into my eyeballs making it difficult to see the trail. I finally popped out back on the greenway, looking over my shoulder, just in case Kaysee was creeping up on me.  With no one in sight, I was able to spin it on in. Goal accomplished.

Jump Trail

Our team by now had a substantial lead so I figured I only had 1 more lap to do.  So in between drinking, eating, and conversing, I prepared for a night lap.  With the sun starting to go down, there was a chill in the air.  I didn't add any layers, as I knew I would quickly warm back up, once out on course.  I started my final lap at dusk.  As I made my way around the course, darkness fell upon me.  I enjoyed this lap, more mentally/spiritually than physically.  My body ached, but my mind was clear.  Body memory from the previous 3 allowed me to negotiate the trail.  Of course there were a few tricky areas where depth perception made it difficult to judge where the trees were and I banged off a couple of them.  But other than that and a few big scary roots, it was almost surreal.  I really ought to night ride more, as I genuinely enjoy this kind of ride.  It is just hard for me to get out there when my circadian rhythm has me yawning at 7pm and ready for bed at 9pm. 

As I pulled into the transition area, my team mates were no where to be found.  No worries, I told myself, as I pedaled back to my pit area.  I handed off the bar code to Missy, who was going out for her last (and our team's last) lap.  Elizabeth managed to finagle her way out of a night lap, that little rascal!

While cleaning up, I learned that Kaysee's team was back in first place in the Open category, making up that 7 1/2 minute deficit in three or four laps.  Day-em! 

Kevin, one of my hometown buds, showed up at my truck.  He had completed 6 laps and was debating a 7th.  But he was also having some achy knee issues.  I talked him out of it, as we struck up a conversation reliving the good ole days, when we were both in our prime.  We must have talked 15 minutes.  That was one of my highlights of the race.  Had I raced solo, we never would have had that great conversation.

I managed to get in a great work out as well as reconnecting with friends! And Team Yeehaw Hawties won!  Doesn't get much better than that.  So thank you Missy and Elizabeth for the invite.  And thanks to Jon and Kent for another awesome HOT.  Thanks to the great group of screaming fanatics at the bottom of Low Gap and the Harper's crew at 5 points. 

I hope I can go back in 2018 for the 20th running of the 12 Hours of the Hill of Truth!

Friday, October 20, 2017

5 Points 50 Race Report

After my back fiasco 48 hours prior to racing the Ozark Trail 100 (and sadly having to DNS), I was happy to have finished my leg openers the day before without throwing my back out.  After making a $130 "trail donation" to the OT100, this race was the first time I selected the $7.99 insurance add-on during registration. 

I had no expectations for 5P50, other than to have fun camping with my daughter and one of her friends, enjoying the awesome network of trails atop Lookout Mountain, and hoping my back held up.  In my experience, this is one of the hardest 50 milers I have done.  It starts out easy with a great paved warm up which leads to the fast and flowy 5 Points trail system.  After that, you slowly get a taste of some climbing along the loose and scabbly CCT.  Then, to finish you off properly, the last 15 hits you with some gnar and a hellacious climb up to the heavens.

Perfect weekend for camping.

We were the first to arrive at Lula Lake Land Trust.  After setting up camp, I went about preparing dinner while the girls explored. 

Toasting the marshmellows for the S'mores

After the RV 10 feet from my tent turned off the generator for the night, I was able to easily fall asleep to the babbling waters of Rock Creek.  The girls amazingly slept well beyond the 9 am start of the race.  How, what with all the ruckus that was going on with racers coming in and gearing up, I don't know.  I guess that is a teenager's special power.

The start began at the entrance to Lula Lake.  I made my way up there early to get in a good warm up.  It seems the older I get, the longer the warm up needs to be to prevent my legs from seizing during that first 5-10 minutes when everyone is jockeying for position.  Even though the first 5 miles was pavement, I still had to fight to stay up in the front so that I did not get bogged down once the single track began.  And having happy legs is SO MUCH better.  So my warm up consisted of 30-45 minutes of aerobic spinning with several 1-2 minute hard efforts thrown in.

Listening to the pre-race briefing as I typically do, it went something like this.  "Thanks for coming out ... blah, blah, blah ... beware of 3-4 aggressive pit bulls along CCT ... "  What? Wait a minute!?!  If they charge you, Justin told us to charge back at them?  I made a mental note to try to find someone slower than me to ride with along the danger section. (Fortunately they never appeared.)

I was able to stay up with the lead group until the first big climb on the pavement.  I had to let the first group go when I saw my HR in the high 160's, which I knew was a "no-no" so early in the race.  I was extremely happy with how my legs were responding.  I would say they were sparkly!  But in order to keep them that way, I had to back off the pace and let Jen go.  The day was young and there was ample opportunity to give 'r later.

I entered the single track with just one or two fellows.  They were moving along at a perfect pace, so I didn't feel like I was "losing" time to Jen.  At one point I was with 3 of my future Rescue Racing team mates, Michael, Mark, and Spencer.  It was great to finally meet some of the fur-rocious gang!

Conditions could not have been better.  60 degrees and tacky trail!  The first 19 miles flew by.  Dare I say chainless?  No doubt due to time off the bike rehabbing my back.  I felt comfortable on all the trails save for the tricky CapRock section.  Not wanting to tweak my back clawing my way up the rock, I opted to HAB it.  (So much easier when you leave your ego at home.) Which really is probably just as fast.

I pulled into the first aid station, grabbed a fresh bottle and headed out to rock it on Kindergarden.  I usually wear a hydration pack at this event, but not wanting any added stress on my back, I opted for bottles.  It worked out well, as the exchange in the pits only took about 15-20 seconds. That was in part to the awesome volunteers as well as the bright pink tape on my drop bags.

I really enjoy the trails on this side, Kindergarden and Barkeater.  They have more of an old school flavor.  Bike and body were one today as I seemed to effortlessly glide over the roots and rocks.  Even when there were those stalled out in front of me, I was able to change lines without getting all jammed up.  Climbing back up to aid station 2 (which is also aid 1), I felt great!  The legs were indeed sparkly!  I had not felt that way in a long while, which, earlier this year was disheartening and frustrating. 

This time I swapped out bottles and gel flasks.  (Soapbox speech) I wish more racers would use flasks as opposed to single serve gel packets.  It is really a no-brainer.  There is ZERO chance of you accidentally littering, it is less expensive, and you can choose how much to ingest.

I had the opportunity of riding Hogsback and Tailings with Zedediah.  This was his first race in a long time.  He had gotten the opportunity when his friend gave him his entry.  He asked me what pace I was on and I said 4:30.  He wanted to beat his friend's time of 4:55 from last year.  Together we rode and chatted. 

Then it became quiet.  I missed his companionship, but after all, this was a race, and I had a rabbit to chase.  That one being the fast and rascally Jen.  And who knows who was just right behind me.  Beth had made mention of jumping up to the 50, and she was a hard charger.  Starr, even though she was not racing open, was still a threat, too.  Kayla and Christine can not be left out of the mix, either.  It was a strong women's field, for sure.

Upon coming up to the highway crossing, I had to stop for a vehicle.  As I unclipped and placed my foot down, I felt a little tweak of pain in my L5.  Not wanting to give it any credence, I blocked it out.  Motoring along the connector trail, the pain began to come in waves, small ones at first, but as I began the loose cat head rock climb, I felt it intensify.  L5 is my Achilles heel.  Vertebrae are pretty mobile, front to back, and side to side.  But what they are NOT supposed to do is swivel, you know, like a desk chair.  Well, mine likes to do that.  And when it does, it feels like someone is taking an ice pick and jabbing it into my spine.

I had to back off the power surges and try to pedal at a steady pace.  Kind of hard when having to negotiate uphill rock gardens.  The downhills were fine.  It felt good to stand on the pedals and let the bike go.  Thank goodness for full squish!  But when making the transition back to a seated position, I had to go easy and not slide my butt back, because that is when I would feel it.

The next few miles along the connector was all about staying mentally strong.  And then I came upon a fellow at a gravel crossing who told me that Jen was 3 minutes up on me.  I didn't expect to be that close as I felt I had lost a lot of time in just a couple miles.  Now I had to battle my back pain and the desire to close the gap.  The legs had it in them, but one wrong core move and I would be in agony with an out of place L5. 

I rode conservatively over the remainder of the connector trail, hoping that perhaps my back would settle back down and I could lay the hammer down again.  I reached the third aid station, hopped off my bike, and stood straight up.  That felt pretty damn good!  I did a few stretches while the volunteers helped me switch out bottles.  One fella told me I was 4 minutes down from first. I downed a Coke, stretched a few more times, and hopped back on the saddle.

Pedaling up the road, my back felt about 75% better.  I'll take it!  I increased the power and my back was cool with that.  Speeding down the gravel into the back door of Lula Lake, the pain began to lessen considerably.  I began the long climb up to the Jedi Trail with a new outlook.  Entering Jedi, I imagined I was on a Speeder Bike, flying through the forests of Endor.

Amazing how the mind can take away the pain.  I went to another place, as I was racing along Jedi, Middle, and Homestead.  I was back in my happy place and completely forgot about my back pain.
Approaching the South Trail, I came back to reality, as this trail took a little more focus to move through.  On a couple tricky uphill over a big rock sections, I had to dismount.  I just did not have the torque to get over and I was nervous about my back flaring up.

The creek crossing was tricky.  The water was thigh high and muddy from those who forged ahead of me.  I was very careful and engaged my core so that any sudden slip would hopefully protect my back.  The water was cold and felt great on the feet and legs, though.

Coming out of the creek, I pedaled along the gravel, gearing down for the steep ass climb out of the Land Trust.  I crossed paths with Carly and Azia.  I slowed a bit and chatted.  They were having a blast exploring the trust!

I got a boost up the last bit of the climb from a volunteer at the 4th aid station.  Then out onto the highway for a mile before the infamous power line climb.  I passed a few people on this section.  It seemed like I was gaining some ground back.  Left onto the double track climb, I shifted into granny, and focused on keeping the pedals turning over.

I passed a family of three: father, mother, and young daughter (couldn't have been older than 8) HAB'ing the climb.  They were doing the 25.  I gave a huge shout out to the little girl.  I can't imagine what kind of thoughts were going through her mind, tackling this beast of a race.  I tried to pump her up by telling her of the sweet single track at the top.  Pretty sure the only thing that would make her happy at this point was a never ending supply of My Little Pony's and ice cream.

The climb was 1.5 miles long. But the skies were overcast and I knew that the "Easy Button" was at the top, having ridden the Moonshine Trails in the week prior.  My mind went back to 2013 when Elizabeth and I were battling it out in the final miles, including this climb.  Never give up!  So knowing that there is always a chance of catching Jen, I pushed myself to try.  I told myself that she was just a minute up ahead.  Thinking positive, I tackled this climb. 

Then it was off to the flow of Moonshine.  It was mostly downhill and I put myself into TT mode.  Pedaling when I needed to, staying off the brakes as much as possible, and hammering out of the saddle on the few short climbs.  My back started to hurt again, but this time it was just the muscles aching.  This I could dismiss with ease, compared to how I was feeling earlier.

Crossing the highway for the final time, I descended down the gravel to the finish, still fighting with all I had.  I crossed the finish line in 4:48.  I forgot to get my finisher's glass.  As I was turning around and walking back, this cutey pie of a little girl who was probably 3-4 years old, came up to me.  As she handed the glass to me, she said, "You can fill this up with beer over there," pointing at the tent. So ... stinkin' ... adorable!  I enjoyed a good laugh!

So proud of this amazing yet humble competitor!

I must give Jen her due.  Even without my back issues I don't believe I would have caught her.  She smoked the women's field, placing 35th overall.  I couldn't have been happier for her, as she has had her own injuries to overcome this year.  I was happy to have kept her on her game as well as she on mine.  That is what makes great bike race, each pushing the other to exceed their so called limits.

As for the course, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I did miss the LongBranch trails with the creek crossings, technicality, and a little bit of HAB.  I loved Bathtub Gin Trail.  I even mentioned to Justin about including both the LongBranch and Moonshine Trails and making it a tad bit harder/longer.  We'll see!

After the awards, the girls and I went hiking.  After racing here 4 times, I had never been to see the falls and lake.  Shame on me!  Absolutely stunning!

We camped out Saturday night, grilling burgers, playing cards, and making S'Mores.  The next morning we packed it up and made it out just before the rains came.  What a glorious weekend!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Marji Gesick 100 Race Report

While I am laid up on the couch in a supine position after throwing my back out on this morning's road ride, I figured I might as well tell you about the race that put me here.

In just 3 short years, the MG100 went from 68 racers to over 600.  Granted, there is now a 50 miler as well, but toeing the line on Saturday morning for the 100 were 366 poor souls. I did this race last year and finished in 12:41.  My goal this year was to finish sub 12 and earn that #damnbuckle. The course had a few small changes but wouldn't really be a factor.

After finishing up my pre ride on the Epic Trail leading out of Jackson Mine Park, the heavens let loose with buckets of rain. As if the trails weren't hard enough already, now I would get to ride wet rocks and off camber trail. At packet pick up that evening, Todd Poquette, the satanical race director, even went so far to say that the trails handle the rain well.  Needless to say, that did not bolster my confidence.

Waiting for the 7:30 am start

The start was delayed by 30 minutes so that was just more time for it to get hotter.  The temperature was 72 degrees at 7 am and highs were expected in the upper 80's. Although I was acclimated to this kind of weather, I was nervous about how the engine could handle the heat/humidity going full bore for 12 hours.

I laid out my bike shoes, helmet, Camelbak, and all that I would carry with me over the next 100 miles next to my bike.  Because before that, I would get to run 0.5 miles ... yep, a LeMans start.  I thought those had died with the 24 hours races!  This year I decided to start in running shoes and then change into my bike shoes.  I calculated that the time running in full bike gear would be the same as the time running in appropriate footwear + the transition, but that my feet would be happier.

After the bass guitarist played the National Anthem, with even Death showing respect, the bottle rocket went off and I started running.  Upon transitioning to the bike, my legs felt pretty good.  Thank goodness for all those 5K runs over the summer.  I took it easy in the early miles.  No sense getting all worked up in passing trains of people.  Things would sort themselves out soon enough.

The first few miles were XC ski trails: wide, open, nothing too strenuous.  Then onto single track to the Top O' The World Climb.  After seeing a video of Jeremiah Bishop not being able to clean it, I don't feel near as bad having to walk the second half.  All the good lines were taken by HAB'ers.  I was tickled to be able to at least ride the first half of it.  On a non race day, with no one in the way, it would definitely be doable.

It was just after this descent that I met FaceBook friend Lane Myers.  It was his first time doing this and he wanted a pacer.  And I wanted a wind blocker! We were working well together and making small talk when the trail dictated.  I was thinking that this was going to help the time go by more enjoyably.  Together we rode the rail trail (with the railroad ties still embedded), some forested road, some loamy North Shore feel single track, and enjoyed Mr. Bagpipes as we crossed a field.  Then we hit the infamous rock garden going straight up!  Second HAB of the day.  At the top I remounted and continued to proceed through more rock gardens.  When it was safe enough to take my eyes off the trail, I turned around to say something to Lane, but I was all alone.  Ahhh! I hated he was no longer on my wheel.

Angry Bear was a trail that was used last year but had since been decommissioned. It was a super slicky, slimy, rocky, rooty trail that ate up all sorts of time.  But Danny made sure to replace it with an even harder trail, Pine Knob!  A double black roller coaster of rock gardens that eat tires for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  A trail where I used every millimeter of my suspension as well as my dropper post.  My Rescue Racing team mate, Scott Mormon, was tubing his tire as I rolled through.

Once off Pine Knob with knobbies intact, I blew a sigh of relief.  The upcoming trails were still gnarly, but not as tire-deadly.  I managed to catch up to a small group of riders and sat on their wheels.  They were going slightly slower than I wanted, but my strategy was to save all my matches for Ishpeming.

The family that was on the Lowe's climb last year was there this year as well.  Just one of many unofficial aid stations.  Their young kids were having an absolute blast handing out cups of water to the racers.  I thanked them for their service and continued as I knew Zeke was just up ahead, around mile 30, to resupply me.

After riding through the culvert that takes you underneath Hwy 41, I rolled up to Zeke who had set up in the Best Buy parking lot. At this point I was 7 minutes faster than last year.  But I had also completely emptied my CamelBak, too.  Last year I was able to make it all the way to the South Trails trailhead before needing anymore hydration.  I made short work of refueling and swapping gel flasks.

Next up was a short bit of pavement and then the Iron Ore Rail Trail.  With a couple miles of flat, I ate two salty peanut butter filled dates.  Hard right off the rail trail and onto Harlow Farms connector.  When I popped out of the single track onto a short bit of pavement, I noticed how intense the sun was and just how much I was sweating.  Just before getting into the meat of the South Trails, I noticed a large group of racers huddled around a woman who was soaking them down with water from a sprayer.  Another unofficial aid station. I opted to motor on.

Once into the Pioneer Loop, my autopilot kicked in.  The body is truly an amazing thing! While my mind may have forgotten certain details, the body knew exactly where I needed to feather the brakes for an upcoming technical section and where I could let the bike fly around blind corners.

Halfway through the Flow Trail, a machine cut fast descent with high berms, table tops, and doubles, I was ready for it to be over.  Although there was no pedaling involved, it still took quite a bit of energy to hit each jump just right.  My skillset lies with natural obstacles, not man made ones.  By the time I hit the bottom, my forearms were jacked!

Rolling into South Trails trailhead

I hit the South Trails trailhead and Zeke was front and center flagging me down.  I headed over to the truck and topped off my CamelBak and grabbed a couple more dates. At this point, I was pretty much on the same track as last year.  I was not giving up on the buckle, but my first priority was finishing. It was also stinkin' hot!  So hot, I felt like I was an ant underneath a magnifying lens.

The Doctor's Trail was a very bouldery trail, both up and down.  Last year, I had to walk a couple sections.  This year, with knowing what lay ahead, I was able to clean 99% of it. Absolutely one of my fav's.  However, on one of the easiest sections, towards the end, I was crushing it ... and then it crushed me.  I was approaching a bridge when my front wheel went all catawompus, and instead of hitting the bridge at a 90 degree angle, my front wheel caught the side of it.  And down I went, rolling around in the rocks.  My ribs and shoulder took the brunt of it.  Amazingly, I popped up, and upon triaging both myself and the bike, we were ok to roll. Jason Kunishier came by and stopped to see if he could offer assistance.  I told him to go on; I didn't want to slow up his race.

The bastard of a climb, Mt. Marquette, allowed me to settle down and regain my composure. Not long, only 0.6 mile, but with an average grade of 12%.  I saw people walking.  I take no shame in saying that my easiest gear was a 30 x 50 because it saved me alot of HAB'ing today.  Next up was the Scary Trail.  I remembered last year that the pucker factor was high.  Today, as I was rolling down, I wondered if there had been a reroute, because I was no where near as intimidated.  Body memory, I love ya!

I picked up my second token on the Not So Scary Trail.  I grabbed two, again.  One for my CamelBak and one for my Mountain Feed Bag.  Can you say I was just a little bit paranoid about losing one?  I just needed that added insurance for peace of mind. 

I can't say that the remainder of the South Trails blew by; I just can't remember anything notable.  Which probably goes to show that this was where I started to go into survival mode, around the 50 mile mark.  I remember looking down at my time when I was at the "half-way" mark and seeing the 6 hours.  I also remember that anytime I saw my HR go over a certain number, I thought my head was going to explode.  It was HOT!  Did I mention that?  I thought I would have been acclimated, but it still even got to me.  It is just that this course is so intense, all the time!  It doesn't let up!  And I think that is why even I was overheating.

The next thing I remember is running out of water in my CamelBak, around mile 55.  In 15 miles, I had emptied a 50 ounce bladder.  I reached for my bottle on the bike and it was empty!  Rookie mistake!  I had forgotten to fill it back at the last stop.  Fortunately the Wurst Aid Station lay not too far ahead.  As I pulled in,  a volunteer filled up my bottle with ice cold Gatorade.  I chugged it, knowing I was ingesting Yellow #5, glycerol ester of rosin (WTF!?!), and "natural flavor," but that I would deal with those consequences later i.e. breast cancer, hair falling out, Alzheimer's. 

Hooking up with a Salsa rider, together we traded pulls on the sandy ORV/snowmobile trail and the Iron Ore Rail Trail.  This is probably the easiest section of the course, 6 miles of false flat to the Jackson Mine Park.  Today it felt like I was pulling a sled.

I rolled into the park, found Zeke, and refilled my CamelBak, once again.  By now, 8 hours in, I had drank almost 150 ounces of fluid.  While tending to my nutrition, Lisa and Chris were there talking about their "race" (they were doing the 50), while eating these massive waffles topped off with an Everest of whipping cream! They were in the process of heading out for the final 15 miles, while I had yet to tackle the first 20 mile loop.

This first loop was full on techy gnar.  Super tight and twisty, I thought I was going to fold my bike into a pretzel.  Although there were many individual trails, together, as a whole, they were called the Malton Loop, named after the mining company that utilized the land.  Over the next 3 hours, I saw so many signs with the words Malton Loop that I swore the next one I was going to rip off the tree and throw it into the next county!  Yes, I had some dark moments in those 20 miles.  Those dark moments started when I ran out of fluid with 8 miles to go.  How could that be?  I was drinking like a sailor!  By the grace of God, with 3 miles to go, a volunteer had set up a water station.  I filled my bottle with the precious liquid gold, drank 1/2 of it there, and then topped it off. 

With about 3-4 miles to go, I hooked up with a fat biker.  This was his first time and he asked whether or not I was going to put lights on for the last 15 miles.  Now, it was 5:30 when he asked this question and we still had another 30-45 minutes of riding until we got back to Jackson Mine Park.  This made me laugh ... evilly.  That poor soul had no idea!  So I told him.  The last 15 miles was gonna take at least 2 hours 15 minutes ... at least!  When I told him that, I think I just dealt him the death blow.  He weakly let out a string of expletives.

I arrived back at my pit at 6:30.  Zeke helped me get situated with my lights while I chugged down an ice cold Coke with all of its liver killing high fructose corn syrup.  It was then I fully came to realize that the buckle had eluded me once again.  I was o.k. with that.  I was going to finish this damn thing.  I had heard that racers were dropping like flies.  Many had not even reached Jackson Mine Park for the first time.  Not to belittle or disrespect the WWII veterans in any way, but compared to other hundies, this race is the equivalent to the Battle of Normandy.

Setting out for the final loop, I began to feel better.  Dusk was approaching and with it cooler temperatures.  Everything was aching, but I was going to make it, even if I had to crawl across the finish line.  But first, I had some bitches to deal with.  Straight the f* up climbs, like Suicide Hill and the one with the slimy rock slab that had to pitch to 20%!  Not to mention all the mud puddles I had to negotiate.  Most were as wide as the road, which required portaging my bike through.  And all this in complete darkness.  The one cool aspect, though, was the crescent moon which seemed to be sitting on the top of each and every climb.

I know I picked up my 4th and final poker chip somewhere in this last 15 miles.  I cannot seem to remember where I got my 1st and 3rd chips, however.  It's all such a blur.  But when I acquired the 4th, it was NOT at the top of Jasper Knob, so I was hoping that Jasper Knob was not in this year's race (I had not studied the GPS track prior or I would have known). So when I popped out on some pavement, I thought I might be home free.  But no! There she was, the arrow pointing to the Jasper Knob climb.  I got caught behind some 50 milers, but was content to HAB with them.  At least at the top, there were volunteers cheering us on.  That made me smile!  I turned around and raced back down, hitting some remaining single track before popping out onto the road that would carry me to the finish.  Or was I going to have to go back into the woods for a few more miles of torture (like last year)? 

Fortunately, Todd took mercy on us and did not include that final trail.  I rolled through the finish at 9:44pm, 14 hours and 14 minutes after starting my journey.  First woman, 28th overall, but buckleless once again.  I can't say I didn't try.  Any disappointment was quickly washed away by the fact that I completed the hardest 100 miler America has to offer! 

Completely spent, but ecstatic!

I have got to hand it to Danny Hill, Jedi Master of trail building, and Todd Poquette, Lord Punisher and race director extraordinaire, you shitheads guys did one helluva job devising this race. I also want to thank their wives, for allowing them to devote huge amounts of time, so that we racers could push and carry our bikes, puke, roll around in the rocks, hallucinate, and oh, ride our bikes some,  all ... day ... long (and into the night for a majority)!

I earned these badges of honor!

Thank you to the volunteers and the community!  You prevented a lot of heat casualties, including me.  And the cheering was an enormous boost!

5 out of 13 women finished.

Other notables:

- You know the course is a beast when it takes Jeremiah Bishop 10:24 to finish (average speed 9.9)

- 70% DNF rate.

- Only 9 earned a buckle.

- Don't put your GPS or other tracking device on Auto Pause unless it can detect speeds less than 2-3 miles per hour.  I had to turn mine off pretty quick into the race.  It was mocking me with its incessant beeping!

- Closer to 107 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing.

- Equal payout for men and women.  $1 to the winner!

- No less than 5 racers told me that my quote, "There is no free trail," was spot on.

- I got to meet two of my Rescue Racing teammates, Scott and David.  I even got to race alongside Scott for awhile until he scurried off on the Mount Marquette climb.

- I got to commiserate ride with so many cool fellows:  Lane, Piotr, Tom, and so many whose names escape me.  Everyone was so nice.  I suppose because the competition was not necessarily each other, but with the course.

- 200+ ounces of fluids consumed (Skratch, Coke, Gatorade, and water)

- Most of the trails were hand built and amazing!  Wish I could ride the Ishpeming section while fresh.

- Last year I had to walk the Bluff climb.  This year I nailed it and all of its heinous switchbacks.

- I had amazing traction with Specialized Ground Controls 2.3's with Gripton.

Note the fine print

And so there you have it.  A hundie unlike any other.  Although I highly recommend this one, most that toe the line will not complete it.  But to those that have the courage to come out and play, I commend you, for this is a challenge like no other.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Black Bear Rampage Race Report

First race for my new LBS.

Another prefect day to make great bike race!  The rains earlier in the week made the tacky and the starting temperature was 54 degrees.  After a brief warm up, I made my way up to the 6th row.  My starts are in no way "lickety split," so I did not want to inconvenience any of the greyhounds.

There were 5 of us in the Expert Over 35 class.  When the gun went off, everyone seemed to be in slow motion. I had to "Flintstone" my bike a few yards before I could safely clip in.  By this time several of the women had gotten 20-30 yards ahead of me.  As I pedaled up to Starr, she was wondering why she was out front, thinking maybe she had started in the wrong wave.  I put her fears to rest as I pedaled on by.

I tried to get rowdy on the paved climb up to Brush Creek, but I felt like I had a governor on my engine.  I could just not get my heart rate up at all.  With no blood flowing to my legs, they were like blocks of concrete.  I was a bit frustrated, so I dialed it back until I felt good again.  A woman I did not know passed me, riding on the coat tails of one of her team members.  Good enough for her so good enough for me.  I hopped on the Wood N Wave train and let them drag me up the climb. Having someone to pace off of allowed me to give the engine a little more time to come to life.

Upon entering Brush Creek, I jumped ahead of her.  Not knowing her skill set, I did not want to be caught behind.  Henry Trent and his tribe had put a lot of hours into making this trail a super speedway (cutting back the underbrush and clearing out the muddy spots).  It was so ... much ... fun, even if I was dying.  I still could not get my heart rate out of zone 3.  The Wood N Wave woman stuck with me for awhile.  Her bike, also a Niner, but with Stan's Wheels, had a distinctive sound, so I did not have to glance back to know where she was.  About half way through, I did not hear her wheels anymore and so assumed she popped.

Boyd Gap was blistering fast!  Harold, also racing for Scott's Bikes, was hot on my heels.  Not wanting to slow him down, I took a few more risks (= less brakes).  At least here I did not have to pedal!

I bumbled a bit on the rooty section of Old Copper.  Man, I think those roots have grown!  Either that or I was just sloppy through there. Heading up to the bridge, Zeke handed me a bottle.  I probably didn't need it, as I barely touched the one on my bike.  This would come back to bite me later.

Henry gave me some smiles for the upcoming miles along Lower Chestnut, Thunder Rock, FS 45, and Poplar Hollow.

Nice coconuts!

I grabbed another bottle from Zeke at the entrance to Poplar Hollow.  I didn't see Fenton, but heard him screaming at me to "get after it."  I truly love people hollering at me along the course.  You guys don't know how much that means to me and how motivating it is, especially when I am in the pain cave.

Once I hit the Quartz Loop, my body began to feel better.  The pedals were a little easier to turn.  I began to pass some people back.  I felt the flow through Riverview and hit all the good lines on Bear Paw.  Old Copper Road flew by and the roots were no problem this time.  The climb up Boyd Gap was still hard, but I found a good granny gear rhythm and actually enjoyed it.

As I was coming through the parking lot at Boyd Gap, Zeke told me that Beth and Starr weren't too far behind.  That was all I needed to dig deep for the last 6 miles.  I buried myself for the first 3 miles. Brush Creek has a groove worn into it.  Envision a slot car track and that is the trail.  I got sketchy in several spots, but that worn in groove kept me from sailing off the trail.  Midway through, I got out of the saddle to power up a short climb.  Immediately I felt a twinge in my left quad.  Uh oh! Don't cramp!  Don't cramp!  I sat down and spun the pedals easy for a few revolutions.  Whew!

I slowly increased the power to the pedals.  As long as I was sitting everything was good.  But whenever I attempted to stand and hammer, the twinge was back.  As I am not one that is prone to cramps, it was most likely due to not hydrating properly during the first half of the race. Fortunately I was able to keep the full on cramp at bay.

I rolled across the finish line in 3:36:16.  Not my fastest time, by far, but still good enough for 1st. What I am really excited about were Beth (2nd) and Starr's (3rd) finishes.  They absolutely rocked the course.  And when Zeke told me they were right behind me, indeed they were!  Beth finished 4:59 back and Starr 8:00 back.  These ladies have stepped it up in the past year.  Hard work, eating clean, and attention to recovery has allowed their bodies to excel!  I know because I did a Whole 30 with them last fall.  I may have to stop giving out my trade secrets! 😁😁

Mighty impressed by these fassst women!

I also must give a shout out to my team mate Noel who made her goals and took a sh!t ton of time off last year's result.

Thanks to Scott's Bikes for another great event, good food, and support! Can't wait for next year!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Cherohala Crossing Gravel Grinder Report

In its 10th year, the Cherohala Crossing is one of my favorite gravel rides.  It is about 50% dirt and 50% pavement, has 3 monster climbs, and covers two states, NC and TN.  The turnout this year was small, only 10 of us.  That was ok with me, as I got the chance to get to know everyone during the roll out to the Tatum Gap climb.  

The start was unusually chilly, but I was not complaining.  The weather fore casted a perfect day to ride.  The first 15 miles was pretty neutral and my legs were happy with that.  In the past two weeks leading up to this, I had logged some hard miles.  For me today was all about pushing through fatigue and finding that zen.

Party pace roll out.  Photo Cred:  Jimmy Deane

David Goggins, an ex Navy Seal and motivational speaker, has a 40% rule that I am struggling to embrace, but bound and determined to by September 23.

When you think that you are done, you are only 40% into what your body is capable of doing; that is just the limit we put on ourselves.

Once we turned onto the gravel, the pack broke up pretty quickly, as the road rose to the heavens.  I found my groove and stayed in it for the 4 1/2 mile climb, where, at times, I saw 18% grade.  Jimmy Deane (not of sausage fame) went up the gravel like a scalded pig.  I kept Don in my sight and used him as my pacer.

The legs were ok at the pace I was pushing, but there was definitely no sparkle. At the top, Jimmy and Don had stopped to wait on the rest.  I kinda wished they hadn't, but not wanting to be a douche, stopped as well.  Today wasn't really a race, but more of a group ride.  Over the next 10 minutes, the others trickled in.

The descent off the backside was super fun.  With the previous days' rain, the road was tacky and traction was superb!  Towards the bottom, it turned into pavement.  Still bombing the descent, just behind Jimmy, we almost became a hood ornament when a blue haired person in a mini van approached us, careening left and right across the road.  Thank goodness for disc brakes and quick reflexes!  I don't know if the person was drunk or having a stroke.

Once onto Hwy 143, I was treated to a bit of a head wind.  This road rolled steadily uphill, with a few small curvy descents to keep it fun. The first rest stop was at the Snowbird picnic area.  I quickly refilled my bottles and motored on. Some stopped longer, but I knew my body needed to just keep moving.

With my Garmin timer set every 15 minutes, I made sure to drink and take in some calories.  Just before we hit the second section of gravel, FS 81, the road pitched upwards.  I was hoping that I would not have to use the 40% rule until I hit the 3rd and final gravel climb of the day, but it was on the 9 mile climb up the gravel that I had to embrace the suffering.

Hero gravel.

Thankfully, the road was in perfect condition, unlike last year when it was so dry and loose that I could not stand without spinning out.  Today, climbing up to the Skyway crossing I alternated between sitting and standing.  Halfway up, Hill Billy made an amazing pass.  Good gawd, he was flying like he was on a moto!  Apparently those weekly group shop rides with the young bucks had paid off!

His kit was dialed! Photo cred: Jimmy Deane

At the top was the second rest stop.  Wayne and Jimmy were already there and I rolled in with Don. Once again, we waited on the others.  I learned a valuable lesson right here.  After 20 minutes, we finally rolled out onto the North River Road descent.  Most of it was so steep, there was no need to pedal.  By the time it leveled out and I had to re engage the legs, they were nowhere to be found. Apparently they thought the ride was over at the Skyway and so had completely ... shut ... down.

The struggle up River Road was real.  Fortunately, Don was feeling just as bad.  Together we agonizingly made our way to the final gravel climb, Harshaw Gap.  The first mile or so of this climb is pavement, which helps when it pitches to 15%.  When the tires hit the gravel, my legs had finally decided to come back to life.  I enjoyed the rolling nature of this climb. With so much traction, I didn't have to scrub too much speed in the corners and could carry momentum up small inclines.

Harshaw switchbacks of death!  Photo cred: Jimmy Deane

Plummeting off the backside of Harshaw, I found my smiley face again.  Once I hit pavement, I still had 11 miles to go, but now the legs were at least firing on 6 of 8 cylinders.  Most of the pavement was still downhill, but there were a few short but vicious climbs we had to "oomph" over.

I was glad to see the final left hander back to the start.  6:14 moving time, but the real kick to the body was the 6:54 elapsed time.  No wonder my legs were cranky!   Although I enjoyed getting to know everyone better, next time I will save the banter for the end.  So, in the future, if I don't stop, it is not that I am a "dickette," but that I have the engine of an old Massey Ferguson tractor:  once I get it going, I gotta get it done!

I definitely put the 40% rule into effect on this one.  Thanks Wayne for making it happen.  Now that there has been 10 editions, the CC has got to keep going.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

With A Heavy Heart ...

Thank you, Pam and Bruce, for 21 memorable years.

This is the one post I thought I would never have to write.  And then the unthinkable happened a couple months ago when Bruce called to tell me that The Outdoor Store was closing its doors.  My heart sunk as if someone died.  Did I not just blog about another great LBS shutting down a few months ago? Once Bruce explained the situation, I had to agree with him.  But what was I going to do?  As if the store only existed for me.  It took me a while to sort things out in my head. My vacation with Carly was the perfect therapy.

It's definitely not about me but totally about what is best for the Blevins family.  Although I am sorry for me and the community, I am happy for the new path they are going to take.  Everything happens for a reason and though I may not realize it now, by God, I will on down the road.

For the past few weeks, I have been reliving the unbelievably life changing memories that have come about through Pam and Bruce's friendship and The Outdoor Store's sponsorship over the past 19 years. Like, in 2000, the first time I used clipless pedals.  They said to come ride some gravel roads and double track to get used to them before I went on single track.  Sounded reasonable, I thought. However, they took me on the now defunct Tellico ORV trail system.  Holy cows!  That is NOT where you take a clipless newbie!

Or when I joined the "racing team" in 1999.  To be a part of a family that loved to get sweaty and dirty and push the limits was a dream come true.  One of my first races was the Bud Light Ocoee Challenge held at Chilhowee Mountain.  I began my career in the Sport category. Somehow I managed to finish the 16 mile course in 4th in 1 hour 54 minutes.

Note the tennis shoes and toe clips.  How I ever survived, I do not know.

I was totally spent.  Charlie had come to spectate.  On the way home, I was so exhausted that I fell asleep. This is the race that Ellen Carroll blew past me like I was standing still and then rode a rock garden like a beast.  I had to walk it!  Seeing her do what she did is what inspired me to get my shit together so that I could be like her one day!  My hunger was insatiable.

In 2000, I upgraded my racing machine to the 2000 Specialized FSRxc, the unofficial beginning of the S-Works line.  I didn't care that it weighed 28 pounds; I felt even faster on this machine!

So pro, with the squiggly SID.

In 2002, the team started to get some home town recognition.

I am in the background, 7 months pregnant.

I remember the year I about killed my husband making him ride the Tour For Tots ride that the store put on to raise money for Christmas gifts for those kids less fortunate.  Carly was about 5 years old and on the Trail-A-Bike.  I was enjoying the hills, even when my little stoker was not stoking. On the other hand, Charlie was being a good husband and father and suffering like a dog.

And the time when I almost had a sub 3 hour 100K Ride For Life hosted in part by the store.  Joshua used to pedal back then and was a beast!  I remember saying to myself with about 10 miles to go, "Just hang on, you got this, don't pop now!"

I will cherish these forever.

I still have my first two team jerseys.  They "swallow" me now.  Had The Outdoor Store not existed, I wonder ... would I have still found mountain biking?  Or would I have taken up another sport?  Or would I have just vegetated on the couch eating Twinkies and drinking Diet Cokes?  I am so thankful for them opening up my eyes to this riding bikes thing.  I have seen so much because of them.  I have pushed my limits and then reset them innumerable times.  I have made good friends.  I have discovered new foods. I have gotten stronger.  All these things ... because of the impact The Outdoor Store made on me.

Before Swiftwicks were Swiftwicks, they were WickWear.

I have 3 pairs of these socks left.  They are 15 years old! A true testament to the quality of Swiftwick. The Outdoor Store was one of the first accounts the company had.

One of the original bottles.

I felt so loyal to this LBS that I purchased as much as I could through them.  One time I even cancelled a S-Works bike frame order with another bike shop because I felt guilty. Apparently after 15 years of being a Specialized dealer, The Outdoor Store wasn't good enough (not doing enough volume) to continue being an S-Works dealer. That was in 2010.  As a result of that guilt, Bruce became a Niner dealer, and I started riding them.

But with the days of on-line shopping, all small businesses are feeling it. I suppose that this is the evolution of shopping, but darn it, sometimes I wish we could go back to the days of Sears and Roebuck.  So when I stepped back into the store after we got back from our vacation, I got choked up.  Reality hit me hard when I saw 3 bikes left on the floor and racks devoid of product.

For me, I will move on and make a new LBS friend.  It will just mean traveling a bit further. I hope to find a new team that will treat me with as much kindness and respect as Pam and Bruce have.  For them, I wish all the happiness in their new endeavors.

Bruce was/is an amazing mechanic. I never once lost or DNF'd a race due to a mechanical.  He kept my machines in immaculate operating condition.  If he didn't know an answer to a problem, he would call until he found someone that did.  That will be my biggest headache; finding a new mechanic that I can entrust my "wheeled" kids to.  This is more serious than finding a new doctor, people!

And if you ever have a hankering for tinkering on some bad ass bikes, Bruce, my basement door is always open ...

Thanks for the memories!