Sunday, July 7, 2019

Nutrition Can Make or Break Your Race

At Marji Bike Camp a couple weeks ago, I gave a post lunch talk on nutrition.  While I made several good points, I feel that I left a lot out, and perhaps did not organize it as well as I should have.  I am gonna blame it on Matt Acker for dragging us around Ishpeming at my race pace (his party pace) and the 231 West food coma I was failing to fight off.

To give you some background, I have been racing for 19 years.  In the beginning, I would carbo load the night before with a big ass bowl of spaghetti, my race morning meal was brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts, and my race food was an odd mix of gels and whatever C-store "sports" drinks I could grab in town the night before.  And I did absolutely fine with this.

But what works for us today may not in 5 or 10 years.  In late 2009, I hit a "wall."  My wattage began to tank, and recovery was taking twice as long.  I was carrying huge loads of fatigue, had frequent headaches, and then my GI tract began to act up.  I was on a rollercoaster of bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.  After 2 year, seeing 3 doctors and getting nowhere, except for having my gallbladder removed and being put on a "pill" for IBS, my coach told me to go on a gluten free diet.  After 2 weeks I began to feel better and by the 6th week, I was golden again!  So I took this info back to my primary doc, additional testing was done, and I was found to have celiac disease.

From there I did the Whole 30 Challenge and discovered that I was also intolerant of grains, legumes, and dairy.  The symptoms were celiac-like (bloating, constipation, fatigue, low energy) but were not as severe and would not last as long (a week as opposed to 6 weeks if I got "glutened.")  Every year I would repeat the Whole 30 Challenge, during my off season, which was around Thanksgiving.  And then I would re introduce a trigger food like rice, corn, or beans to see if I still had a negative response.  After 5 years, my GI tract now tolerates rice, corn, and legumes (in moderation) but still has negative effects with dairy.  "In moderation" for me means having  the above 1-2 times per week and no more than 1 cup.

So ... NUTRITION is an integral part of your success on the bike.  You can have a well-oiled machine, you can be producing all the watts, but if you neglect your nutrition, it can be what DNF's you.  And the older you get, the more important it becomes.  You cannot take a cookie cutter approach to nutrition.  It feels like I have been a science project for the past 8 years, constantly tweaking and dialing what works for me. 

I am going to tell you what works for me, both on a daily basis as well as during a race.  This is not to say this is what you need to do, but generally speaking, it might be a good starting point.

My almost daily Big Ass Salad

Day to Day Nutrition

  • vegetables/fruits:  8-10 servings/day.  If I need more carbs, I will add in sweet potatoes or white potatoes.
  • protein: 90-100 grams/day.  I shoot for 0.8-1.0 grams/pound.  High quality, as in pastured meats, wild game and fish.  I am lucky for my in laws raise black angus and my family gets a steer every year. My husband is also an avid hunter and we feast on deer, duck, and turkey.
  • fats:  healthy (EVOO, avocado, coconut), NOT industrial (canola, corn, sunflower) --leave those for filling hydraulic lines  
  • I don't drink my calories.  
  • Fluids include my morning Christopher Bean Coffee, water, and Stevia sweetened iced tea.
  • Treats include dark chocolate (70% or darker) and home made grain free goodies like chocolate zucchini bread, tahini blondies, or fruit crisps.

Grain Free Blondies -- just ask my Rescue Racing team mates how good they are!

Week of the Race

  • I will gradually add in a bit more carbs in the form of potatoes, in the two days prior to the race.
  • I won't necessarily drink any more water than normal, but will throw in a electrolyte tab (NUUN or Hammer Fizz) into my water.
  • I do my best to stay away from junk food.

My daily jet fuel

Morning of the Race

  • Christopher Bean Coffee with honey and collagen peptides
  • sweet potato
  • 1 hard boiled egg

10 minutes before Race Start

  • 1 gel, chased with a couple ounces of water

Their registered dietitians will gladly consult with you on a custom formula.

During Race

  • Infinit Nutrition, customized for me (slightly sweet flavor, carbs, and additional electrolytes).
  • 6 ounce gel flasks (4 parts gel to 2 parts water)
  • for races longer than 10 hours where intensity will decrease as fatigue increases, I might incorporate some solid food or real food (Honey Stinger GF waffles, Cliff shot blocks, rice cakes, dates with almond butter and salt, crunched up potato chips).
  • I will take a hit of caffeine (50-100mg) 2/3 into a race in the form of a gel, Coke, or I have a custom Inifinit mix with 200mg of caffeine per 22 ounce bottle that I will drink in the latter 1/3 of a long race.
  • I aim for 200-225 calories per hour.  I am always sipping my drink or eating small amounts.  I don't take this in all at once.
  • I have a reminder on my Garmin to drink and eat every so often.  It is easy to be so focused on the trail that you forget your nutrition.  For those of you who don't have this option, write it on your forearm; that is what I used to do.

Other Take Aways

  • Practice eating your race food at the intensity you will be racing at.  Don't think that eating a PB&J during a social ride will work for you during a race when your HR is pegged!
  • Find sports drinks that are the same osmolality as your blood.  Here is a good article:  Gatorade is NOT a good idea ... unless you dilute it.
  • Put lots of variety in your drop bags.  What may look scrumptious to you at the beginning of a race might not be so tempting 65 or 80 miles into it.  Temper sweets with some savory bites!
  • In a race as long as the Marji Gesick, start your nutrition in the first hour.  Don't get behind, as you will never be able to catch back up.
  • Do what works for you.  If that is an extra large supreme pizza, then so be it.  (I am jealous!) Some racers are dirty diesels, some are jet fighters.  I am the latter.

Listen to your body.  It might not be overtraining or undersleeping or job related stress.  It could be what is going into your pie-hole.  I am still learning.  At Marji camp, I just didn't feel on top of my fitness.  At first I attributed it to coming off my 2 week vacation with my daughter and having dead legs.  But I explored it a bit deeper and discovered that my GI tract was having some cross reactivity with some gluten free certified oats that I was making granola out of.  Since having stopped eating oats for the past two weeks, my gut is back on track!

Check out Kelli Jennings' website.  A couple years ago, I sought out her coaching plan for 6 months just to see if I was missing anything.  Like I said, everyone is an individual, and she helped me to discover a few more missing pieces of my puzzle. I highly recommend her e-book Fuel Right Race Light.  I printed it out and it sits on my nightstand ... next to my Bible.

Creamy pesto zoodle pasta with veggies

Sunday, May 19, 2019

My Everest Experience

Our spouses probably think we need to be committed.  We are, it is just that our definition is different.
Endurance:  the struggle to continue against the mounting desire to stop.

Late last year, I was deciding on ways to try to test myself through cycling challenges.  Turning the big 5-0, what better way than to attempt an Everest.  The challenge is to take one climb and do enough repeats in a single activity to gain 29,029 feet.  Strava stalker Scott Morman saw what I was up to and asked if he could join in this "awfulness" -- what my daughter said.

The morning of, I awoke to my inner alarm clock at 3 am, grabbed a cup of Christopher Bean Hawaiian Kona, poured enough honey in it to cause a diabetic to go into a coma, and headed out the door.  The place was the Foothills Parkway, about an hour's drive.  Scott and I both arrived 30 minutes before we said we would, which shows our A-type bike-aholic personalities.  We both brought back up bikes, back up recording devices, back up batteries ... pretty much we had double or even triple of EVERYTHING.

My 13.7 pound Trek Emonda ... well maybe a bit more with all the electronic crap on it.

We parked at a pullout which was about 3 1/2 miles up the ascent. The climb I chose was 5.3 miles long with an average gradient of 5.5% and a total gain of about 1450 feet.

We began at 5 am.  The temp was 65 degrees. Storms had blown through earlier, leaving the pavement wet and the road foggy.  No sooner had my adventure begun than it almost ended, as I did not see a large stick in the road on the way down to the beginning of the climb.  I hit it full speed, but employing all my mountain bike skills, I saved it.

Halfway up the first ascent, it began to rain.  I stopped to  cover the connections from my external battery to my GPS device, worried about them crapping out from any moisture that could get in through the open ports.  It soon stopped.

Scott and I stayed together for the first two laps.  We enjoyed the whippoorwill calls and listening to the cascading waters as the sun rose.  The Smoky Mountains were enshrouded in fog and low lying clouds ... stunning!  My plan was to feel like I was going too slow the first 4-6 ascents and then see how I felt after that and reassess my game plan.

I stopped every two ascents at the truck to refill my bottle and grab a bite of something to eat then and there, allowing my stomach some blood flow for digestion on the descent back down.  I also shoved either a Honey Stinger Waffle or some Cliff Shot Bloks in my jersey pocket for the second descent down.

On the third or maybe fourth ascent, Scott slowly rode away from me.  No worries, as this is a ride where we need to settle into our own rhythm.  At the end of the day, he had lapped me.  We still saw plenty of each other throughout the day as we completed our ascents.  As we would pass by, going in opposite directions we were always encouraging the other with words or sign language. 

The first few pit stops for me, I had to pee.  This was a good sign, as I was staying hydrated.  The stormy morning was of benefit as the skies stayed cloudy through noon.  The heat of the day was from 12 pm to 5 pm, with a high of 82 degrees. The cloud cover had cleared and I could not hide in the shade from the overhead sun.  I had to back off a bit as I was seeing a heart rate that could very well spell disaster should it stay that high. 

Keeping the pit stop times to a minimum through multitasking. 

I picked a weekday for this challenge, hoping that traffic would not be as bad.  We pretty much had the road to ourselves, except for 11- 6 pm.  It was the usual parkway mix of Harley's, crotch rockets, sports cars, and beat up pick up trucks.  Gotta ask.  What is up with Harley riders blaring their radios while on a scenic drive through the mountains?  It's not like they can even here the music above that 100 decibel pipe noise!

Looking at this challenge in its entirety can be daunting.  I took the "eating an elephant one bite at a time" approach.  I first broke up the number of ascents into two groups of 10.  21 was the number that we had to do, but anyone can do "just one more," so I told myself I had to do 20.  Once I finished the 10th one, it was a descending pyramid after that.  Then I decided I would ride 2 ascents before stopping at the truck to resupply.  Once I finished the 7th ascent, I had completed 10,000+ feet.  From here it started to get hard, so I broke up each ascent into five 1 mile bits that I could focus on.  And believe me I focused hard.  By this time I knew where the smoothest section of pavement lay and subconsciously would find my wheel tracking to it.  I knew where I could stand and hammer, working different muscle groups, stretching the back, giving the va-jay-jay and the sit bones a moment of relief. BTW, the Specialized Power with Mimic is the "bee's knees" of saddles, at least for my anatomy.  But still, getting off those parts does keep them happier.

The first, third, and the last half of the fifth miles of the ascent were the hardest.  They had the highest grade and were unrelenting.  Fortunately they were broken up by some flatter stretches, and overall, this ascent was almost perfect.  I say almost, because, although the pavement was fairly smooth, I was wishing for buttery smooth asphalt (like on the newly opened section of the parkway) by mile 150.

On either my 8th or 9th time up the mountain, I thought I was hearing things.  Sounded like a musical instrument.  As I came around a corner, there was a gentleman at a pull off, sitting in a chair, and playing his trombone.  Weirdly cool!  In the races I have done I have heard a fiddler (New Hampshire 100), electric guitar (Marji Gesick 100), drums (MG100), and the bagpipes (Karl's Kaleidoscope?), and a harp (?).  I should have taken a picture.  On the subsequent descent, he was smoking a cigar.  Stuff I see on rides never ceases to amaze me.

As 6 pm rolled around, the road became shady again. I was now into my 14th hour and my 16th ascent. Throughout the day, I had occasional aches and pains and would come and go (left knee, right ball of my foot, left shoulder blade), but now I was beginning to have some discomfort in the palms of my hands and my left rear deltoid.  I was constantly shifting my hands and doing left arm windmills to alleviate the pain, but it pretty much was a nagging constant throughout the remainder of the challenge.  I could accept this pain, for at least I wasn't having any more foot pain and my lower back was staying happy.

With 5 laps to go (my mental number, with 6 being the physical number), I could now see the finish line.  Whether it was going to take me 17, 18, or 19 hours, I was going to win.  Although physically I was becoming a mess, my mental game was strong enough to keep my lap times consistent.  My knees began to feel like the Tin Man's.  My left deltoid was fussing at me on the descents.  My breathing became ragged anytime I was out of the saddle.  The descents were now becoming hard.

At the beginning of the ride I told Scott that the word of the day was savor.  It was our choice to do this, to experience the lows as well as the highs.  I believe that the lows teach you more about life then the highs.  So when your monkey brain is screaming at you, place a piece of mental duct tape over its mouth, and live in the moment. Take it in, process it, and then you will realize that it is not really as bad as you think it is. 

As I finished my 17th ascent and began to head back down the mountain, Scott was finishing up his 18th ascent.  Earlier in the week, I had communicated to him that it looked like we needed to do 20 laps.  I pretty much had figured it out by lap 7 that it was going to take 21 to solidify the 30,000 feet of gain.  I wanted a hefty buffer because all recording devices are not equal.  As I approached I slowed down and told him that he needed to do 21.  The look on his face was the equivalent of a toddler about to go into an all out fit!  I had to chuckle, to myself of course.

The sun began to set on my 19th ascent.  With clear skies, the full moon rose with all its beauty over the Great Smoky Mountains.  As my field of vision narrowed down to just beyond my front wheel, my other senses began to take over.  The sounds of hoot owls, whippoorwills, frogs, and other unknown noises (mebbe Sasquatch?) began to fill my ears, making me smile.  Around one particular bend, on each of the last 3 laps, I smelled cucumber salad.  And at another spot, something earthy and strong (bear?).

The last two times down the mountain, I started to get chilled, despite the warmish night.  That, along with the fear of a deer running across the road and taking me out, caused me to slow down a bit. 

Scott and managed to hook up for his last and my second to last lap.  Although we were both in zombie mode, we did manage to eek out a few sentences of how our day went.  On my final ascent, the moon was at my back.  With only an occasional car now, I turned off my headlamp so I could  take in the beauty of a dark sky, a rarity these days, what with so much wasteful artificial light.  ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR!!  This experience washed away all the pain I was feeling. I had a brief moment where I did not want this to end.  Crazy, huh?

But then it was over.  I was back at my truck, 18 hours and 218 miles later, having climbed 30,000 feet.  Suddenly the fatigue hit me like a tidal wave.  But first, I had to stop my recording devices and save the data.  I even wrote down instructions for my Garmin Etrex in case I forgot the sequence of buttons to push ... ha!  How quickly one can go from a strong determined racer to a bumbling hollow shell in just moments of getting off the bike.

The faces of Everesting

As I changed clothing, put away my gear, and collected my emptied wrappers of nutrition, I reflected on the day.  The one thing that will truly be memorable was having Scott there to experience it with me.  It was NOT a "misery loves company" day, but rather a wonderful day to be alive, strong, resilient and with the fortitude to succeed in this endeavor.  Thank you, Scott, for being my co-pilot!

Other stats

9 bottles of Infinit (1 having 200 mg caffeine)
1 bottle of water
1 mini Coke
3 caffeinated gels
4 Honey Stinger waffles
3 Cliff Shot Blok packs
6 home made rice cakes
2 external batteries to run the Pioneer head unit
Garmin Etrex 30x with only 25% battery usage
2 close calls with vehicles (dumb ass blonde in an Infinity and an old man in a beat up pick up)
1 rattlesnake
1 skunk
3 Chamois Butt'r reapplications

0 moments of self doubt

Saturday, May 11, 2019

PMBAR Race Report

5 years since my last one ... long enough to forget the pain ... mostly.

Lisa Randall and I teamed up. Five years ago we toed the line and sped off at warp speed, as I was chasing the Queen of Pisgah and hungry for victory.  This year, I just wanted to have an all day adventure in the woods with no strings attached.  Meanwhile, Lisa, was still recovering from an NUE race director hangover.

We arrived at the Hoffmeister Temple Friday evening and Beth prepared us an extraordinary last meal.  She definitely went the extra mile with a chicken pasta dish topped with goat cheese and toasted pine nuts and a mixed green salad with dried blueberries.  Her culinary skills are top notch.

Race morning was warm and dry ... wait, what?  This not Pisgah. Looking at my weather app at 5 am, I saw the heavens were expected to let loose with a torrent of wind, rain, and hail around 1pm.  Now, this is Pisgah.  Passports were handed out at 8 am and the game was on.  I had heard about the 2018 version with the preamble Thrift Cove-Lower Black loop.

You WILL do the parade loop and you WILL like it! 📷 Icon Media Asheville

We got the joy of doing it again, in reverse, this year, too.  Lisa took the lead and began the 3 mile and 1200 feet elevation warm up lap.  I was busy trying to keep my heart rate low enough so I could process all the chatter around me, trying to glean any strategery from the locals, who knew the forest better than I.

After an hour, we finally made it to Pressley Gap.  I hopped off my bike, pulled out the map, and tried to think of how to go about collecting 4, possibly 5 checkpoints.  Trying to get my brain to work while my heart rate was still 160 was damn near impossible.  After circling all the CP's on the map, we began connecting the dots.  We opted to ride Turkey Pen to get the first mandatory at South Mills/Bradley Creek.  I had not forgotten the HAB on Black up to Turkey Pen, but these days, HAB's don't really bother me ... it is just part of the Pisgah experience.  For the first time, I truly enjoyed Turkey Pen because it was bone dry! 2 hours 46 minutes from starting our PMBAR journey, we grabbed our first CP.

Knowing how much rain this area has had in the past two weeks, I opted for taking Mullinax to Squirrel to upper Cantrell Creek for our second CP.  I could only imagine what South Mills and lower Cantrell would be like.  Besides, I LOVE Squirrel and had not ridden it since the 2018 Pisgah Stage Race.  Once again bone dry and with all the chirping birds lighting up the forest, I was in my happy place.  We came upon several teams going the opposite direction, which made me question my route for a few minutes, but I quickly pushed those thoughts out of my mind. The descent down Cantrell was pretty sketchy; most of it was under water and there were thousands of baby heads to contend with.  I opted more than once to walk my bike as the risk (broken derailleur) to reward (3 minutes faster) was high.

4 hours and 16 minutes from go time, we got our second CP at Horse Cove/Cantrell Creek.  Lisa's heels had taken a fairly good beating on the Turkey Pen HAB's, so while she tended to her blisters, I grabbed some water from the creek, relieved myself away from the creek, ate a couple hundred calories, and plotted our next move.

There was really no other choice than UP via Horse Cove. My bike was going to hate me, as it was pushed more than it was ridden.  And then the birds grew quiet and the sprinkles started.  Halfway up I ran into Patrick and had a brief conversation about how to go about snagging the 2nd mandatory at Farlow/Daniel Ridge.  We were both on the same page, so that made me feel good about my route.


Once we hit Funneltop, it was all downhill to FS1206 ... well, mostly.  At this point we were 5 hours in and Lisa began to fall a bit behind.  Up until today, 4 hours was about the longest she had ridden this year and after having a 72 hour adventure last weekend, I would say her body was in WTF mode.  The rain began to come down a bit harder and I put my shower cap on my helmet.  By the time we had finished Funneltop and were approaching the intersection with FS1206, the skies opened up.  I quickly put my rain jacket on, not to keep me dry, as I was soaked in my own sweat, but to keep me warm.

📷: Lee Neal

One lightning bolt struck close enough to make me double my cadence for about 30 yards before I realized that I couldn't outrun electricity.  I told myself if I am gonna die today, at least it will be on my bike. Once we turned on FS1206, we collectively made the decision not to go and get the CP on Pilot Cove.  Lisa's engine was sputtering and although I had my required head lamp, I really did not want to use it.  And who knows when and if this storm would let up.

So we turned left and began to make our way to the second mandatory CP at Farlow and Daniel Ridge.  The rain continued to pummel us as we dropped down 276 to FS475B to 225.  I didn't have to drink from my CamelBak, as I had enough rainwater mixed with sweat running down my face for my own electrolyte drink.

📷: Icon Media Asheville

Daniel was a mess with water pouring over the million roots.  I was all over the place trying to stay upright.  Finally we arrived and got our passport stamped at 3:05 pm. We continued on down Daniel, crossed the bridge, took FS475 to Davidson River to 276 to FS477.  The rain was coming down enough for me to worry about us getting pancaked by traffic on 276 so I motored on as quickly as I could.

As we turned onto FS477, the rain began to let up, nearly 2 1/2 hours later.  As I approached lower Bennett, I mentally prepared myself for the HAB.  I also hoped Lisa would still talk to me afterwards, especially after we hit the super steep pitch where I had to lift my bike up and over some root/rock shelves.  Fortunately I had gotten ahead of Lisa and she was out of my sight on this part, so she did not have the opportunity to kill me and stash my body.


I stuck my passport through the small opening in the tent.  It came back out with some heavenly goodness.  They asked if I wanted a Snickers to which I replied yes.  What I wasn't expecting was a homemade one!  OMG!  It was so cold, I thought it was made with ice cream.  That marshmallow cream was all it took for a foodgasm!

It took 45 minutes to climb up Bennett but only 15 minutes to descend.  The water flowing down the trail showed us the line.  We popped back out on the gravel and began the final push back to the finish.  The sun began to pop out once we hit Clawhammer and it felt so good.  Maxwell went on forever.  We were both ready to be done, but still had to hit the HAB on Black before we could stop pedaling and enjoy the descent.

The  Gods of Pisgah weren't finished playing with me yet.  I was holding my own until I came to the root staircase with the sharp right-hander at the bottom.  I decided to dismount at the last second; as I got off the bike both feet slipped in the mud and I ended up bouncing down on my ass. With only an injured pride, I hopped back on the bike and continued.

Halfway down, my left calf began to cramp.  Holy Mother of God!  Normally I can slow pedal and calm down the angry muscle.  But that was not an option.  I just gritted my teeth and went faster.  I hit one rock garden with way too much speed, my front wheel hit a rock, twisting my bars so forcefully I almost lost connection.  How I managed to correct the bike and get it back on track I do not know, but am forever grateful because that would have left a mark.

Once I regained my composure I nursed the remainder of the trail.  Lisa and I crossed the finish line at 6:32 pm, 10 1/2 hours after beginning our adventure, with 62 miles, and 10,000 feet of climbing in our legs.

No land speed records were set, but we accomplished our goal of having a wonderfully suffery day.  Our route choice was good, although looking back now, I see where we could have made a better choice going after the last two CP's.  I was glad we chose to knock out the first two CP's the way we did, as it allowed us to ride Turkey Pen and Squirrel in perfect conditions.

This was great training for the Crusher in July, which we will be tackling together as well.  Feeling as well as I did also helped to boost my confidence for another challenge I will be tackling on Friday, which will have a wee bit more climbing.

Thanks Eric for always challenging me and providing a course where I am not just following flags all day.  It is these style races that I have grown to love.  And thanks Steve for the photos.  What a master of photography you are!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Boondoggle Forty 5 Race Report

Podium Picture!

This race was a good mix of single track (16 miles), gravel(13 miles), ORV (4 miles), and pavement (12 miles).  The dirt bits were wild enough that I chose my hardtail with 2.0 Bontrager XR1's.  It had also rained the day before and I knew from pre-riding that there would be a 100% chance of mud.  Fortunately, even though there was a good threat of rain during the race, it amounted to nothing more than a 20 minute sprinkle.

The race started at the power plant and began with a 2.5 mile pavement climb to the single track.  Despite a warm up, my legs were NOT happy, and several women got ahead.  Surprisingly a few minutes later, they lit up, and I was back in it bridging the gaps.  I entered the single track in what I thought might be second place.

The first descent was a slip n slide and the dude in front of me got all noodlely in the ribbons of mud.  He made a surprising save right in front of me.  I almost followed suit, trying to avoid him, but managed to stay upright and not run him over.  I continued to follow his wheel, but at a safer distance. We soon came upon Tess, the first place woman.  The single track was tight in this area and I had to be patient.  When the trail opened up, we were able to get around her.  I wasn't 100% sure I was in first at this point, but it really didn't matter, as I just needed to ride my own race.

After listening to Mr. Noodles brakes squeal on the next two descents and feeling that I could go faster than he, I managed to get around him when the trail widened on a short double track section.  Now I was in my own element.  Legs were firing on all cylinders and the sweet ribbon of single track was mine alone to shred.  Some boys from the Union College soon joined me and I was happy to pull them along.

At mile 10, I popped out onto the road that went over the dam.  I was able to bridge up to two racers and together we alternated pulls.  The collegiate cyclists caught up to us and soon we were 5 strong, then 7 strong, as we made our way over to the Southern Loop, which was the gravel and Middle Mountain section of the course. 

The gravel was fassst!  Hard packed with minimal rock, I was able to stand and hammer the climbs and make quick work of the flats and descents. I slowly rode away from the pack, as one by one they dropped off the back.  I rolled on past the 2nd aid station (mile 19) and hopped onto Rico's wheel, who gave me a free ride to Middle Mountain.

This section of the course is a rutted, mud-hole infested two track.  The type of place you would not want to be at night by yourself, seeing the multitudes of empty beer cans strewn about.  I settled down here and negotiated the mud holes carefully, not knowing how deep they were.  It was all about not touching the brakes and letting your front wheel meander. 

Kentucky's version of the La Brea tar pits.

About 2 miles in, I came upon a unoccupied Ford pick up, up to its doors in mud.  The dude must have either stolen the truck or been drunk to have ended up here.  I don't know what he was thinkin' as this path ultimately ends up with a Farlow-like descent down to another gravel road.  I am pretty sure the blue book value of the truck is not worth a tow outta here.

I began the gnarly descent confident, but 1/2 way down my monkey brain engaged and it was all over.  I suppose I am getting too soft, but I was just not feeling it on my non-full-squish-high-post-skinny-tire bike!  I hopped off, ran the remainder, which was just as fast as the dude behind me who cleaned it ... if that tells you anything.

200 mg of caffeine takes most of the pain away!

Hit the gravel road and began pushing it hard again ... because I could.  I made it to 3rd aid station (mile 27), ditched 2 empty bottles, picked up my Infinit rocket fuel and downed a caffeinated gel.  Let's finish this strong, LAAGGZZ!

I was solo for this stretch, but just before the gravel ended and the pavement began, I spotted a racer ahead ... my carrot!  It took a solid 2 miles of head down TT mode, but I was able to bridge the gap.  Travis and I worked together over the next 3 miles of pavement back to the final 8 miles of single track.  We also managed to pick up Ty, the single speeder, and give his legs a bit of reprieve on the flats.

Entering the trail, I let Travis and Ty ahead of me. They were hammering it hard and it was all I could do to keep up.  About 1/2 way through, Travis' engine began to sputter and he let me around.  I hopped on Ty's wheel and held on.  In the last mile, Ty began running on fumes and allowed me to lead.  I caught up to Rico on one of the final climbs.  He challenged me to catch up to his buddy ahead. So I emptied the tank in the final 1/2 mile and hit the Slobber-Knocker climb with tongue hanging out and eyes bleeding, rolling across the finish line, 1st woman, in 3:20.

The bike race was nothing more than the qualifier to see who would get to shoot free throws for the Boondoggle Title Belt. Brian Schworm (Men's Open winner), the winner of the SS (sorry, forgot your name) division, and I were competing.  My only chance of ever beating Brian and I failed miserably: 2/5.  Mr SS won it with 3/5. Brian hit 2/5 as well.

Thanks Keith and all the volunteers for a well run event.  Course markings were on par.  The aid station volunteers were quick to respond to my needs.  And having a bike wash and a shower available at the end was a bonus!  Now, to just work on that timing system  😉

I was pleasantly surprised at my performance, given the back to back weekends of racing.  10 years ago, I would not have thought twice about this.  These days, however, recovery is much more of a priority.  This says something about my taking care of this body, as well as Coach Lynda's training plan.  I am not sure I will tackle anymore back to back weekends this year, but ya never know.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

War Daddy Race Report

Back in early March, after I signed up for the Forty 5 race, the War Daddy began popping up in my FB feed.  I clicked on it and it brought up a pic of a killer T shirt that had "Kentucky's hardest bike race" written on it.  You had me at "hardest."  SOLD!  I quickly blew off the fact that these two races were on back to back weekends, War Daddy being the first.  I figured I would deal with the fall out, err recovery, when that day arrived.

I headed up Friday afternoon and spent the night at the Wendover B&B.  This place has a neat history. It was where Mary Breckenridge founded the Frontier Nursing Service in 1939, a school of midwifery nursing services.

My room which used to be a dormitory

Nestled in a little holler

Having never ridden nor raced in Kentucky, I availed myself to Strava stalking Brian Schworm and viewing the "Tips by Trevor" videos.  Even though "on paper" it looked like a gravel bike race, I soon realized that Kentucky gravel is different than the Tennessee or Georgia gravel I have raced on.  I chose my Niner Air 9 RDO with Specialized Renegade 2.0's. Although I do like to recon or pre ride courses if the opportunity presents itself, there is also that excitement that boils up inside of me when I am about to embark on an unknown adventure.

The race began at 9 am and temperatures were perfect.  The start was a 5 mile neutral roll out to get us through the downtown of Hyden in one group.  It was truly neutral and allowed time for the pistons to warm up. There were 41 of us ready to tackle this beastly day. Agueda was the only other woman ... and she was built like a Columbian climber.  I fist bumped her at the start, noting that she was on a gravel bike.  I briefly questioned my bike choice, but after counting only 6 other gravel bikes, I quickly dismissed any negative thoughts.

After turning left onto Owl's Nest Road, the police escort pulled aside, and the race began.  It was still a fairly chill pace, but once the Owl's Nest climb began, the hammer dropped.  Only a mile long, this climb was short, but steep AF!  I was surprised at how great my legs felt and spun it out in my 32 x "pie plate," while others were struggling to maintain momentum at grades of 15-17%.  It was here that I passed Agueda, quickly empathizing with her bike choice.

The backside of Owl's Nest was a nose-dive descent!  Then the course leveled out for a good bit on the way to Aid 1 at mile 20.  I exchanged pulls with another racer along this stretch.  No need for me to stop as I hadn't even started my second bottle of Infinit.  The first 20 was done in a little over an hour.

The next climb was War Baby.  Another steep ass climb and on unmaintained gravel.  Although hard, definitely rideable ... until you hit that stick you'd been attempting to miss, causing your rear wheel to spin out.  Grumble, grumble.  Off the bike, run it up 10 yards, and hop back on.  Once on top, I encountered my first series of mud boggin' holes.  The first two, not so bad.  The third (key word)  "looked"  ok.  But my front wheel sunk almost axle deep nearly throwing me off the bike.  This was a mud sucker fo sho'!  I had to wiggle the front wheel loose and then employ my not so good dead lift skills to "unstick" my bike.  I couldn't help but laugh out loud!

Fortunately the next bit of the course was downhill, allowing my bike to shed about 5 pounds of mud that had accumulated on the wheels.  I was grateful that I had left my mud fender on as this saved my face and glasses from the worst of it.

The descent off War Baby had a creek crossing. This "crossing" involved riding the creek for about 60 yards. It was here that I employed Trevor Tip #1.    I saw the line, became the line, and stayed the line.  Although it wasn't pretty (I am used to riding my Top Fuel with a 120/100 mm suspension and dropper) I survived.

The third climb was War Dwarf at about mile 24.  Another punch to the mid section, but I was still feeling spry. I just put my head down and gave'r.  After that grunt, I was rewarded to another fine descent followed by some easy pedaling to Aid 2 at mile 34.  The time between Aid 1 and Aid 2 was a little bit longer at 1 hour 18 minutes. I stopped briefly for a gel as I had emptied my flask.

Pulling out I hooked up with Jordan, a single speeder.  We yo yo'd on the Twist and Sourwood climb.  This was one of many beautiful stretches of the course.  It made the suffering well worth it for the rock formations and running creeks were eye candy.

Jordan was excellent company and soon I found myself in single speeder mode along Grannie's Branch.  This was some fine ridge line riding with nice rollers where I could stand and hammer up the short climbs and then sit and enjoy the short descents.

Grannie's Branch, a nice respite from the previous "enhanced" gravel sections.

After a baller descent off Grannie's, Jordan and I rolled into Aid 3 at mile 44.  Time elapsed between the 2nd and 3rd was a quick 41 minutes.  I had my Infinit "secret sauce" mix here.  My bottle cage had also rattled loose, so while the awesome volunteers tended to my mechanical, I shoved 2 caffeinated gels down my pie hole ... 100 milligrams of frenzy.  And my bottle of Infinit contained another 200 milligrams.  I was either going to burn rubber in about 30 minutes or self-combust!

The next 5 miles was pancake flat pave and gravel to the War Daddy climb.  I happily pulled along Jordan and Kevin, both spinning it out on their single speeds.  While they chatted about 1st and 2nd place (they were currently sitting 3rd and 4th), I was in TT mode.

And then War Daddy was upon us.  It was here that I utilized another Tip by Trevor.  You gotta hard charge it!  And so I did!  Although insanely steep, the gravel was firm, and I flew up War Daddy ... or so it felt.  Initially the legs were flailing, but then the caffeine kicked in, and all the lactic pain seemed to melt away.  I dropped both of my SS buddies on the steepest section as they had to HAB.

More rollers on the way to Aid 4 allowed me a chance to recover.  I knew the worst was coming in the last 10 miles.  Just before the final aid station, Kevin passed me back.  Man, that dude is lumberjack strong!  I stopped briefly at the final aid station (mile 54) to fill a bottle.  The volunteers told me that finally I was going to see some trail.  As if it was going to be all rainbows and unicorns to the finish.  More like gargoyles and banshees!

Four miles of "easy" gravel led me to the Redbird Crest Trail.  It was very similar to Milma and Tibbs.  Let's just say my left thumb kept trying to push a dropper lever that did not exist. And I was wanting more rubber and travel as well ... but, at least I was not on a gravel bike. Six miles of  relentless ups, down, and mud holes had me in Yosemite Sam mode more than once.  I more than happily let a fellow racer by so he could be my mud hole tester!  Unfortunately, even though he had mad skills, he was on a gravel bike and had taken a wrong turn earlier in the race (bonus miles), so was pretty much spent after a mile or two, and I was forced to go around him and test the waters on my own.

After 52 minutes of this insanity, I finally hit the strip mine section.  It was a little bit easier but still muddy nonetheless.  Watching all those silly ass "Tips by Trevor" was not only hilariously entertaining but informative as well.  Taking the high line kept me out of the quick sand like mud.

Take the right side high line ... Trevor Tip #3

Despite the ride arounds, I still managed to accumulate 1 pound of mud per wheel every few minutes.  I just kept telling myself that this was puncture protection and free facials.  By the time the tires had flung it all off, I would hit another muddy section.  This went on forever ... well, maybe just 20 minutes.

As my Garmin hit the 67 mile mark, I was ready to be done.  Not really knowing where I was, I was desperately hoping that this was 68 miles as was stated on the FB page and not 70 or 72.  Finally the course began to point downwards and I could smell the barn.  This last descent was not free, though.  It was rugged with sharp pointy rocks.  I told myself that I would ride the rims to the finish if I had to.  I let it go only to run upon a side by side.  He finally noticed I was on his ass and gassed it, pulling off when the opportunity presented.

I hit the bottom and the finish at 5:40:22.  That last 14 miles was the DEVIL!  It took 1 hour and 35 minutes of my life away!  But I would do it all over again as the rush from finishing the War Daddy was elevating.  Yep, the hardest MTB race in Kentucky!

I waited awhile for Agueda as I wanted us to be able to share the podium, as the only two women to dare to tackle this race. Unfortunately I quickly became tired and hungry and was relishing a hot shower.  So alone I stood.  I did hear later that she finished, so fist bump to you, girl!

John Maggard, the race director, not only had food at the finish, but a post race party at the Wendover B&B, where the spread was a cornucopia of home made fixin's ... and beer. John's family and extended family, the Sheriff, the Mayor, and a lot of the volunteers were there.  It felt like a Sunday post Church pot luck dinner.  Amazing!

This was plate 1 of 2.  Nom nom!

What an awesome weekend.  If you want to test your legs (9000 feet of climbing in 68 miles), mental fortitude, and your love of mud, then this race is for you.  If you are expecting groomed pavement and gravel, search elsewhere.  John and his family/friends poured their love into this race and it showed.  The course was marked impeccably, the aid stations where phenomenal, and I went to bed with thrashed legs and a full belly.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

True Grit Epic Race Report

45 miles, 5500 feet gain

Race morning was 38 degrees.  Forgetting that a Utah 38 is different than a Tennessee 38, I put on arm/leg warmers.  I was in the Open Women's field, set to go off first at 8:20.  I didn't even know until I checked in the day before that there was a 50+ Master Women's field.  I approached the start line and heard a Scottish accent call out my name.  Coach Lynda!  I hadn't seen her in years.  We talked a bit, helping me to forget about all the heavy hitters in the field and how I was about to be "schooled."  This wasn't an "A" race and with all the riding leading up to today, I knew I was carrying some fatigue into it.  But I also knew I didn't have to prove anything to anyone, other than me.  I had my own personal goals:  have FUN, don't CRASH, MOTIVATE others, and CLEAN the Waterfall.  I also gave myself a time goal: 4:15.

At the top of 3 Fingers, with Zen off to the left.

The race started out with a neutral 1 mile roll out through the town of Santa Clara.  Once we turned left and hit the double track, everyone dropped the hammer!  The first couple climbs were a punch to the gut for me and soon I was dangling off the back.  I was cool about it and waited for the legs to come to life.  I also realized that I was overdressed and soon stripped down my arm warmers to my wrists.

The first few miles were fast and a bit muddy through Cove Wash.  I was in the mix of a few ladies and seeing their jerseys, figured they knew the lines, and so was content to ride behind them.  The next section was Green Valley.  This was a serpentine 8 mile section in which I would ride up a rocky wash to the top of the hill and then rip it down double track to the valley floor and hit another climb through another wash.  This seemed to go on forever and you had to make sure you followed the orange tape and signage because it was easy to blow through a turn on the descents.

Climbing up to WaterFall, the gnarliest section of the course, I soon was being passed by the later waves, which included the age group Men categories.  Most played nicely, but some obviously had no clue about the "trail" of their rear wheel.  More than once I had to brake, which made me "Yosemite Sam" it under my breath.

As I approached the feature, there was a woman just ahead who was undecided about riding or walking.  I called out, "rider back," and she quickly got off her bike and moved off the trail. There is a "danger danger" sign warning you just before the approach. Once you pass the sign, you are committed to riding it. As Scott Harper would say, "The pucker factor so high, I almost bit a chunk out of my chamois!" I had studied Thom Parson's video the night before, playing it 7 or so times, trying to visualize the line.  Enter to the left, sweep to the right, over the boulder, roll the drop, back to the left, ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk, roll over the drop to the right, fight the urge to go back to the left, hit the last boulder drop, and shoot out the right.  Boom!  I did it!

Pumped about what I had accomplished, I felt re-energized and was rewarded with a flowy, chunky descent down to the Zen loop.  I wanted to just BRAAAAP it down to the aid station, but after seeing 5 riders off the trail with flats so early in the race, I chose to err on the side of caution.

At the aid station, I lost a minute or so fumbling with arm warmer and glove liner removal.  I decided to keep my leg warmers on as slight protection against a potential crash on the rocks of Zen. I didn't have a drop bag here, so I carefully tied everything in a knot and hoped I would see it at the end of the day.

Beginning the climb up Zen, I made mental notes of where I needed to try to conserve, where I needed to dig deep (which was most of it), and where I needed to just get off and run it up.  Zen is my absolute favorite.  Super techy, with punchy ledgey climbs, I was pretty much red-lining it the whole time.  One line I took during the race that I was afraid to during the pre-ride was a short but scary cliffside climb.  I think I kept my right eye closed as I rode this section.  Even the descents worked me over with lots of chunky drops.  But as the trail name states, I was in the moment of bliss.

I rode back through the aid station (you hit this aid going into/coming out of Zen), and began the climb up to Bear Claw Poppy.  This was one of the longer climbs and I tried to stay on top of my nutrition here.

Three Fingers descent

Bear Claw Poppy was a 4 mile descending pump track for XC bikes.  There were alternate lines where you could get some serious air or just stay on the ground and carve the ribbons of dirt.  I chose the latter, although a couple times I got crossed up and flew a little more than I cared to.  It helped that there were two guys ahead of me and my greyhound instincts kicked in.

And THEN the hard right turn onto Stucki Springs.  Although I had not pre ridden this trail, I knew from the profile (800 feet climb in 4 miles) that I was going into the hurt locker.  Fortunately, the typical headwind was not there today.  I also managed to latch onto another woman in my category, which motivated me to push through the pain.  This trail is straight and I could see it all the way to the horizon.  We talked a little: her name was Carri from Park City.  We managed to pass a few guys, but I didn't quite have the legs to pass her.  Somewhere in the last mile, the rubber band broke and she slowly pulled away, although I would continue to see her almost all the way to the finish.

Once I crested the top of Amen Hill, the course veered 90 degrees to the right, which gave me a clear view of the snow capped mountains in the distance.  Talk about a view ... stunning! I was out of water, and there was a trail angel at the top with a water jug.  I pondered for a few seconds about stopping, but didn't want the gap between Carri and I to grow any bigger.  Even though I was way out of a podium spot, I still had that competitive spirit.  I figured I was only about 15-20 minutes from the Barrel Roll aid station.

There were some whoop-de-doos on the initial descent, one of which I unintentionally did a tail-whip and landed (tire side down) into some bushes (fortunately not cacti). How I landed that one safely I do not know ... cat-like skills I suppose! From there I rode a little lollipop which consisted of Rim Rock and Rim Ramble.  My legs either began to recover a little or my focus was on the trail for the pain in my legs seemed to subside.  I still had Carri in my sights and sought to reel her back in.

I came into the Barrel Roll aid station (mile 35 and 30 minutes after running out of water), grabbed my drop bag, swapped bottles, and took a caffeinated Gu shot.  Barrel Roll was about the same mileage as Zen, but less technical and with half the amount of climbing.  Knowing that I only had about 6 miles of tough trail left (the last 3 miles of the race being mostly downhill and with 1 mile of pavement), I attempted to make one last hard push.

I took the wrong line into the entrance of the saddle section of Barrel.  I stopped, backed up, and then cruised through the steep descent.  I knew better than to try the knuckle breaker climb and ran up that short steep pitch before hopping back on.  The last 3 miles I began to feel real good as the caffeine kicked in and I started picking off racers one by one.  The final descent back to the double track was so much fun and I just let'r rip, knowing that if I did flat, I would just ride my Industry 9 carbon hoop into the finish.  At this point, finishing quickly was worth a potential rim sacrifice.  I was so ready to be done!

Unfortunately, even sharing pulls with a fellow racer, I was unable to reel Carri back in (she finished 1 minute ahead).  I crossed the finish line in 4:31:46. The website purports a time of 4:21:15 but there were some major issues with the timing across all categories, so I am pretty sure my Garmin was the correct time. I managed to eek out a top 10, pretty proud of that I must say, and I did finish ahead of the ladies in the Master's category.  Hmmm ... maybe I will make a go out of a NUE series championship in 2020.

I absolutely loved this course.  My meat and potatoes!  The slickrock is amazingly grippy.  To be able to climb super steep pitches without any rear wheel spin is so much fun.  I wish I had more time to spend and session some of the sections that I was just too gassed to attempt.

Spending a week with my teammates on this Rescue Racing Stokecation was a pure joy.  I LOVE you guys:  Twan, Smooshie, Durango Kid, DJ, and Scott "1000 TSS" Morman.  I finally got my RR name by way of  Smooshie:  3G! And seeing how Joe Urbanowicz was so "starstruck" with Utah and crushing the hundie at only 16 years of age ... well, made me feel good that I could play a small role in his happiness.

Linda Wallenfels finished 2nd in the Open category.  Hell yeah, that's my coach.  And then she played tour guide, showing us new trail in the following days.

UTAH ... I'll be back.  357'ish days and counting ...

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Snake Creek Gap TT -- February Edition

I do believe Thomas Turner and I are the only members of the "Raced the Snake Every Year" Club. It has evolved over the years, from the first edition (2005) that was raced "backwards" from Dug Gap to Dry Creek to the addition of a 50 miler in 2016.  I am quite partial to the 34 miler, which is where I first cut my teeth on rocky technical terrain.

The February edition would be remembered by a Top 10 List, not necessarily in any particular order.

1.  The Polar Vortex was taking refuge at the Dry Creek parking lot.  Damn that wind was brutal!

2.  Realizing I forgot my DynaPlug on the bus ride to the start.  Like forgetting your driver's license: chances are you will not need it, but it makes you more cautious than you would want to be.

3.  Sitting next to Josh on the shuttle and listening to his friendly banter of nervous energy. 

4. It was nice to see that ALL of the bridge was above water.

5.  Seeing Angie Childre's tiny little cog on her bike as we were climbing up to the first section of single track and thinking she was in for a rough day.  So happy to be spinning a 23!

6.  Honcho calling out my alter ego's name, Carol, who is my favorite character on The Walking Dead.  Definite bad ass!

7.  Dismounting and leaping over the 29'r wheel-swallowing clay crevice, passing two dudes in the process.

8.  Having a friendly and encouraging exchange with a fellow racer as he was fast on the descents and I was a wee bit stronger on the climbs.

9.  Accomplishing my goal of a sub 4 hour finish and 1st SS overall.

10.  Spending the weekend with my stoke-tacular Rescue Racing team mates, Mark, Scott, and David.

Fifteen years of racing this tough as nails course.  If NWGA SORBA can continue this amazing event another 15 years, I will be there!