Monday, July 4, 2016

Bike-cation at the Whitefish Bike Retreat

Cricket knows what mountain bikers want!

After two years of dreaming, the stars finally aligned.  I was just outside of Whitefish, Montana, in a mountain biker's paradise!  Cricket Butler, whom I met through racing when she lived in North Carolina, had poured her heart and soul into a 20 acre piece of property that was just a couple pedal strokes away from the 30 mile Whitefish Trail. There was also access to hundreds of miles of single track and forest service roads if you cared to drive anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.  Whitefish has the Big Mountain, where there is lift access to awesome downhill trails.  Glacier National Park is about 45 minutes away.

Bike Retreat Connector Trail to the left, Whitefish Trail to the right.

Cricket does not like to expound upon her accomplishments, so I will. She is a Tour Divide and Trans North Georgia finisher and has thru hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail.  She is the go to gal for bike packing set ups and TD race advice.  The TD route goes right through Whitefish.  There is even a secret back door trail off the TD where one could get refueled at the retreat.

All levels of obstacle riding right out your door.

The Berm Trail

The Berm Trail

Four years ago, while raising two sons, she turned this piece of property into a mountain biker's "Walt Disney World."  An old horse barn became The Lodge.  A dilapidated shack became the Camp Store. Campsites were created.  And just this past year, two flow trails, a skills area, and a pump track were born from the earth.

Old bicycles and parts became functional again.

In the lodge, there are 6 guest rooms upstairs.  You can have your own private room or share a bunk room with others.  Downstairs is a fully equipped kitchen where you can prepare your own meals and a common area with couches, a TV, tables, and chairs.  Outside, in the back, is a fire pit, where you can congregate at the day's end and swap stories.

Riser bars!

If you need a route to ride, just ask.  Cricket and her staff know ALL the trails.  And if you are riding solo, bring your SPOT, and Crickett will follow your adventure online, making sure you get back safe.  Heck, if she has a day off, she might even go along with you!


If you have been to Mulberry Gap, then just consider the Whitefish Bike Retreat the "Mulberry Gap of the West."  I highly highly recommend vacationing here.  And if you don't, then you are just dumb.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Marathon Nationals Race Report

Third time is the charm!

In the week leading up to the event, I kept checking the registrant list, as I was the lonely single speeder.  Finally, with only hours to spare, Rebecca Bubp chose to join me in the USA Cycling shenanigans.  There would be only two of us, but that did not lessen the challenge.  My race extends beyond the borders of class or age:  all women and dudes with one gear are fair game!

With Augusta not having any rain in awhile, the course was going to be dry and fast!  However, Mother Nature would do her best to challenge me.  The starting temperature this year was just shy of last year's finishing temperature:  81 degrees.  Waiting on my call up at the start line, the air was hot and heavy, like a warm, wet blanket.

At the gun, I went out hard.  The 19-29 and 30-34 groups had started 2 minutes ahead and I was hungry!  I also wanted to open a gap between Rebecca and I early on, knowing that "out of sight, out of mind," would be to my advantage.  The first few miles of the Bartram Trail came and went quickly.  By the time I had hit the double track flats, I began to reel in several of the women that had started in front of me.  I came upon Melissa during one particular flat stretch and welcomed the draft. I also had the opportunity to say some words of encouragement to her, hoping that those ahead of her in her class would battle it out with each other, fall apart, and be swallowed up by her in the latter miles.  I passed a couple more as they spun in their grannies up those steep climbs, while I mustered every bit of my 111 pounds to keep the pedals turned over.

Across the highway through the pastures, creek crossings, and powerline climbs, I felt the sun's blazing heat. I was like that poor little ant being under the magnifying glass of some 5 year old boy, on the verge of combustion. On one particular long grassy double track descent, I suddenly knew what it felt like to run a series of moguls.  It took all my cat-like reflexes to keep the rubber side down, the ruts being camoflaged by 3-4 inches of grass.

After the final grunty climb back up to the road crossing, I was getting light-headed. I made myself slow down for the 16 miles of Bartram back to the start/finish to keep the engine from overheating. Even though I settled into a slightly slower, but sustainable pace, the flow of the Bartram is amazing. I felt like I was in a Star Wars movie, riding a speeder bike.

About 18 miles and 1 1/2 hours into the race, I sucked on my hydration hose leading to my 50 ounce bladder.  Nothing.  I grabbed my CamelBak, jimmied it around, and sucked.  Still nothing! Fortunately I had a 1/2 full bottle of water on the bike.  Although I had not planned on stopping at the first aid station (mile 20), I was thankful to take a short respite.  Being the only one there at the time, I was treated like a Queen.  I did not even have to get off the bike.  While one volunteer refilled my bottle, another poured ice cold water down my back.

During the remaining 10 miles of Bartram, I caught a couple more women, and started passing some of the younger age group men.  I was pleasantly surprised by how respectful all the men were in letting me by.  As I approached the start/finish, my time was just 3 minutes slower than last year's. The first half of the course was exactly the same, so that was promising.  I stopped and swapped CamelBaks while professional pit crewman Zeke poured ice water down my jersey.

The first portion of the next 30 miles was the Keg Creek Trail.  Due to a road bridge being under construction, this portion of the race was different than last year's.  I would be riding most of Keg first and clockwise.  This part and all of its seemingly 1,532 roots would be the death of me!  Even though the trail was shaded the canopy held in the heat which approached a high of 95 degrees.  The balls of my feet and my left big toe hurt and it felt like someone was stabbing me in the lower back. What kept me hammering, though, was knowing that I did not want to be caught by Mary, who I had seen coming down into the start/finish as I was leaving.  Mary had spanked me pretty good in the Big Frog 65 and I did not want a repeat.  So I motored on, ignoring the pain, and constantly scanning the horizon for signs of the bridge work, as that would tell me I was about to  leave Hell.

After Keg was a 2 mile stretch of pavement.  It was a nice break from the teeth rattling I had just experienced.  And uphill so I wasn't spinning my legs off.  Once again, I drained my 50 ounce CamelBak in a little over an hour.  As I hit the 1 mile Purgatory Pasture, I began to feel a little better. All the pains disappeared so that I could focus on the task that lay ahead.  At the third aid station halfway through the field,  Zeke was there with nutrition in hand.  While I drank my Red Bull, he refilled my CamelBak.  I also managed to pack enough ice into my bra and down my bibs to have a cooling effect on me for the next 30 minutes.

As I approached the Mistletoe single track,  I was greeted with some cloud cover.  Instantly the temperature seemed to drop 10 degrees.  I felt great going through this 7 mile section of single track. The creek crossings were all shallow and rideable.  I did miss one turn during a creek crossing where I went wide left and ended up going left on the other side as opposed to right.  I realized my mistake pretty quick and only lost about a minute.

This crossing was almost completely dry this year.

I only had to HAB a couple short, grunty climbs, the one after the ledgy drop into the creek and the other being the cross tie climb back up to the park entrance.  I passed a few more guys, one of whom gave me the biggest compliment of the day as I passed him on a climb while he was walking. The guys were most gracious today!

As I left Mistletoe enroute back to Purgatory Pasture, I looked at the time and realized that I was really close to my time from last year.  I knew I was a little slower, but with the reroute, the second half of the race was about 1-1.5 miles shorter.  So I challenged myself with another mini-goal:  try to beat last year's time.  After stopping at the fourth aid station, drinking a coke, pouring ice down my kit again, I struck off with a vengeance.

I was all spinny coasty on the 2 miles of slightly downhill pavement back to Keg, Whenever I would get my cadence up to 120, I would feel the burn in my quads.  I had to back it down a bit and just relax.  I had witnessed alot of racers cramping today, and I did not want to become a victim.  Entering the last bit of single track, I pushed on, eager to get to the rolling gravel that would take me home. Spirits were high, but legs were heavy.  Having ridden this section the day before, at least I had some sense of the distance.

An unbelievable amount of work went into these rake n ride sections

The rolling gravel road back to WildWood Park and the finish was like a mini Dirty Kanza.  I would hammer the climbs and rest on the descents. Up, down, up, down ... "K to go" signs would pass by and on I plodded. I eventually caught up to a racer who I drafted behind on the descents and could eek out a few more mph.  As we were climbing one particularly steep hill, he happened to look down and see that I was single.  He said a few expletives, albeit complimentary, and then suddenly died.  I was on my own.

Once into Wildwood Park, I seemed to gain a few more watts and rode the last 1K as hard as I could. I was bombing down a double track descent just before the 500 yard to go mark when a deer shot across my path.  I closed my eyes for a brief second hoping that she did not have a friend that was going to plow me over.  Whew!  Close!

It was a little surreal crossing the finish line in 5:27 and snagging a stars n stripes jersey.  Three years of chasing my dream had finally come to a close.  I also managed to place third overall (5th, if you include the Pro division).  I would also like to give a big shout out to Rebecca, who had a hard day, but finished with a smile.  This lady, if you don't know, is one tough cookie.  She raced the Shenandoah 100 last year on a single speed; no small task!

My time was only 6 minutes slower than last year.  Not bad, given the Hades Heat!  I went through 180 ounces of fluid and it took two hours and two bottles of water before I had the urge to pee!

I must give a big shout out to the race promoter and the volunteers. There were quite a few hiccups last year, but all were fixed.  The course had tons of marshals and markings.  I only got off track once and that was my fault.  The aid stations had plenty of neutral support and were well stocked.  The t-shirts were made on site and you could choose your size and color.  And the Mega Slurpee I purchased with my meal ticket was icing on the cake!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fort Yargo 6 Hour Race Report

No pressure, after all it's just a number.

This race, put on by Dirty Spokes, would be my last event before "the biggie."  Being a lover of backcountry epic one big loop formats, I was having to really conjure up my inner ADHD hamster for this one.  But knowing what was looming on the horizon, this race was a perfect test of what I have been training for.

I had ridden the course the day before, running a 32 x 19, the same gear I had raced on when I did this race in 2012.  All the endless burpees, box jumps, shuttle runs, etc at Results Fitness had paid huge dividends, as the gear was way too easy! So I slapped an 18 on for the race.

While at the starting line awaiting the gun, I was happy that the short mostly upward pavement lead in to the trail was gonna be short and sweet.  I shouldn't get caught behind too much traffic. But then, at the last moment, Tim changed his mind as the original plan would have been too risky, what with a chicane style entrance to the single track. So he extended the pavement section another 0.3 miles for a total of 0.6 miles of asphalt to a straight single track holeshot.  I wasn't happy, but I understood. Challenge accepted!

Eying my competition at the start, I saw Amy and Rachel.  There were a few unfamiliar faces, and since the 3 hour racers were starting with us, I did not know who all was in my class.  No butterflies today, I am saving and growing my collection for the next race!  I spun my brains out on the pavement, trying to limit the number of racers I would have to maneuver around once I hit the trail. Once on the trail, I got to practice my track stand for the first mile, as the party train came to almost a complete standstill.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the course open up pretty quickly and by mile 2 I was moving along at a pretty decent pace.

I was able to pick up the pace once I maneuvered around two pile ups. The course was dry and loose in places, and lines had to be carefully chosen.  Finally, after an early season of wondering if my climbing legs would ever show up to play, today was their day to shine.  Now, this course only had about 900 feet of elevation gain per 10.3 mile loop, but the legs felt great whenever the trail shot up. My fave was the Monster Mile bypass climb, the longest on the course with a couple false flats.  It was here that I was in my element and able to pass quite a few racers.

All total, there were about 4 other short kickers.  These lap format races can get quite mind numbing, so in order to keep it "fun," I made a game out of it.  I would settle on the flats and descents and work on technique and using less brake.  I would "rage" the climbs, going as hard as I could, welcoming the burn.

By the third lap, I had Amy and another woman in my sights.  I slowly began working my way up to them, when at a cross roads in the trail, I saw two emergency vehicles with lights flashing.  Not a good sight.  Within minutes, my forward momentum came to a standstill, as the first responders were working on a downed racer.  We were slowly allowed to pass around the emergency vehicle which had the racer strapped to a back board.  I think I heard the injured rider speak, but could not tell how badly she was hurt.  I silently said a prayer as I passed by.

I finally reeled in Amy and the other woman halfway through the 3rd lap.  I followed them for the remainder of the lap, resting a bit, and figuring out how I wanted to play this out on the remaining 3 laps. Once I approached the Start/Finish area and figured out that the other woman was not in my class, I decided that I would catch back up to Amy and if my legs were willing, I would do what I could to try to open up a gap on the Monster Mile bypass climb.

I made my move when the trail opened up.  I dug deep into my reserves and pushed hard for the remainder of this 4th lap.  Not knowing how big a gap I had opened up, I looked longingly at my Red Bull in the cooler when I swapped bottles, but made the decision to use those precious seconds to devour more trail.

The last two laps went by quickly.  I felt much better the 2nd half of the race and just eeked in a negative split!  I enjoyed talking with Mike Johnson on lap 5, discussing old fart racing and ti bikes.

I rolled through the finish with 6 laps, 62 miles, in 5:19:21.  First place earned me a sweet pair of Scott bike shoes, but alas, a size 44, too big for me.  But a perfect fit for Zeke!  Over the years, I have been on the receiving end of his schwag bag goodies and prize winnings.  It was finally time for me to give back.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Big Frog 65 Race Report

Little did I know my finishing time would be 1 minute off my # plate.

Although I have ridden this course many times, I had never raced it before.  It would be a good benchmark to see where my strengths/weaknesses lie, so that I can have a solid 6 weeks to dial the body in for Marathon Nationals.

The weather was perfect, 60's/80's and dry.  The forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms, but I was confident I could avoid any precip. I had put in a solid week of recovery, but was still on edge because I did not feel exactly recovered.  Two ladies whom I did not recognize lined up at the front and I assumed they would be my competition. Lisa and I lined up in the second row, in an attempt to avoid any bar rubbing shenanigans at the start.

The race director started us off a few minutes early, which not only caught some racers off guard, but also the lead car as the front runners had to suddenly diverge around it.  The pace up the pavement was insane and Lisa and I popped off the front but managed to hang in the chase group.  These fast starts become harder and harder each year.  I need a good deep warm up to feel lively at the start, but it is hard to accomplish that AND have a decent starting position.

When I hit the single track right on Lisa's wheel, I thought there were 3 women ahead of us.  The speed on Brush Creek was not super fast, but neither did I get caught in any significant party trains. As the trail slowly began to climb upwards, my legs began to whine on all the little grunty ups.  Not good!  Sometimes it can take 1-2 hours for my legs to come around.  I desperately hoped for that.

Lisa let me around her on Boyd Gap and for the first half I sent it!  And then I got caught up in traffic and had to use my brakes more than I liked.  But confidence building as I am beginning to hold my own on the downhills these days.

I managed to maneuver around some racers as they got hung up on the roots of Old Copper Road. As I began climbing up Bear Paw, my quads felt like they were on fire and I let Lisa back around as she was tired of getting tire rubbed by some dudes behind her.  Digging deep, I was able to latch onto her wheel as we entered River View.  Tooth and nail I fought my inner demons over the next 5 miles of single track to hold onto Lisa's wheel.

Once on the fireroad, Lisa slowly rode away from me on the climbs.  I was able to reel her back in on the descents, following a gentleman who gave me some entertainment as he surfed the gravel in front of me.  Once I caught back onto Lisa's wheel, she said that there was a woman in a green kit just ahead of us.  I could see her and this gave me a carrot to chase.  I pulled Lisa along the next couple miles, knowing that she had the strength ot make a move once we caught her. Slowly the gap decreased and as we flew down the Big Creek descent, Lisa made her move and bridged.  I was in scavenging mode at this point, ready to pick up any pieces Lisa left behind.

I watched the cat/mouse game ahead of me as I made the climb out of Big Creek.  Lisa and the woman went back and forth until the rubber band broke and Lisa pulled ahead.  As I approached the turn off to the Big Frog loop, I managed to crawl myself up to the woman.  As I approached who I assumed was the 3rd or 4th place woman, I noticed alot of facial hair, like a full beard!  Ha!  We had put forth a hard effort to chase down "this woman!"

Entering the loop, I dreaded the climb up to the highest point.  Going slower than biting fly speed, I was immediately savaged by them. Curse them and their painful bites!  I was finally able to get rid of them as I pulled up to 2 large fellows racing the hundie.  As I passed them, I got close enough for the flies to realize a larger surface area was to be had by jumping ship!

Approaching the top I was passed by SS'r Ben from Ohio.  We leap frogged the remainder of the race. He was great company with a super positive attitude!  Thanks for taking my suffer-0-meter down a notch!

The Big Frog descent had me all but forget my fussy legs.  Plenty of time to let them rest and enjoy the speed.  Hitting the flat stretch, I began to dread the climb back up to Aid Station 3/4.  I was also parched, as I had run out of water 1/2 way through the loop.  Once I began the climb, I decided to play a game to take my mind off the pain.  For 20 pedal strokes I would stand and hammer, pretending to be on my SS.  Then I would sit and pedal for 20.  This helped and soon I saw the signage:  Pedal ... Faster ... I ... hear ... AC/DC ... music.

Arriving at the aid station, run by Scott's Bicycle Centre, I was greeted with an ICE COLD COKE. Normally, I don't partake in soft drinks, but today I made an exception.  I found heaven!  Still in racer mode, I made short work of it, refilled my CamelBak, and motored on.  I had also grabbed a Red Bull and drank it while hitting the rollers on the ridge.  Come on, caffeine!

30 minutes later, I felt the life come back into me.  Feeling good again, I began to pick up the pace (at the very least, it felt like it). Legs pumping like pistons, I hammered up the steep climb out of Big Creek and soon enough I was rolling along the final ridge before dropping back into the single track. Yep, I was smelling the barn.  Once I hit the Quartz Loop, I was happy and energized!

It was good to feel fast again.  I thoroughly enjoyed the last 8 miles. Entering Thunder Rock, I was focused on setting a PR.  The legs were happy, the mind focused, and I was having a Zen moment. And then coming through the power line cut, I had to slam on the brakes!  Dudes were in the way! Argghh!  Lo and behold, Lisa was right in the middle of them, as frustrated as I!  At one point, the guy up front tried to stop and let us by, but that caused a pile up!  Fortunately no one went down, but bikes had to be untangled.

Oh well, if one believes that everything happens for a reason, perhaps this was a way of keeping me from flying off the trail "Thelma and Louise" style!  Lisa and I traded wheels on the way to the finish. In no way was I gonna sprint my team mate for 3rd.  She was the strongest today and deserved the last step on the podium.  We rolled through the finish line in 5:24:19 and 5:24:20.

The day could have gone better, but it could also have gone worse.  It is races like these that puts your "grittiness" to the test.  Although I was a bit down on myself the first half, I persevered and ended up in my happy place at the finish.  Although I did not make the podium, I did have a few small victories.  1) None of the hundred milers caught me.  2) I beat the rain in.  3) I was asked by a group of guys up from Florida for a picture with them.  One told me I had "mad descending skills," and he choked on my dust.  4)  A young woman told me that she enjoyed reading my blog.

I hope that through this journal of my life on the bike, I can show women that age is not a limiter.  I enjoy riding and racing/suffering as much now as when I first started 16 years ago.  Once the enjoyment stops, that will be the day I hang the bike up and look for something else.  I hope that never happens!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Sponsor Spotlight -- Chamois Butt'r

I have been blessed to have a working relationship with this company for 6 years.  Aside from my LBS, this is my longest standing sponsorship.  It is one that is a bit more difficult to promote since you actually don't see the product in photos or in person as opposed to my other sponsors, i.e. bike, wheels, pedals, cogs, etc.

But they are just as essential in aiding in my performance.  What connects you to the bike has got to be comfortable, so as to be forgettable.  Meaning, I don't want to think about my taint AT ALL while training and racing.  Because if I am, then my focus is being taken away from the engine.

There are plenty of options when looking for a good chamois cream.  And most probably do a decent job.  It is important to try out several and find out which one works best for you.  I would give Chamois Butt'r a chance.  They have several options:  Chamois Butt'r (the original), Chamois Butt'r Eurostyle, and Chamois Butt'r Her.  The price is good:  $15-20 for an 8 ounce tub.  I always carry samples with me, so just ask!

Steve Matthews, founder and developer, is so cool and down to earth.  He goes out of his way to make time for the little grassroots ambassadors, like me. He knows that we can play a vital role in getting the word out on his product.  For me, personally, I connect more with the small players and what products they use/support, as opposed to what the big name pros go with.

I am honored to be a part of the team, no matter how small my role might be.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Blankets Dirty 30 Race Report

My training plan for this weekend called for an hour at 50 miler race pace on Saturday and 3 hours at L2/L3 on Sunday.  I decided to combine the two efforts somewhat by racing Mountain Goat Adventures XXC race at Blankets Creek on Saturday.  It is always much easier to hit those harder efforts when racing with others as opposed to solitary rides.

The noon start was nice as I could travel down the day of, but how to handle pre race nutrition took some pondering.  I ultimately decided to just eat my breakfast 3 1/2 hours prior and so loaded up with Christopher Bean Coffee when my internal alarm clock went off at 6 am.  That worked well as the pre race jitters held off the lunch time hunger monster.

I used this race to test my bike and nutrition set up.  I decided to go with gears as the Big Frog 65 is just 2 weeks away.  I was also eager to see if my Niner RKT would handle any different/better than my Jet 9 RDO.  I had not raced her since The Snake and had made some minor adjustments since then.  I was also trying out some new nutrition, Torq energy drink and gels.  I had been using these during rides, but had yet to try them out at race pace.

The race was 2 laps of the entire trail system, about 30 miles with 2800 feet of climbing.  Weather was perfect, in the 60's and dry.  This was a low key race for me, but I still was conerned with my performance, as my legs were a little tired from the week of training.

I had a good start and went into the woods in the top 10.  No sooner had I started the first climb on the Van Michael Trail (VMT) when a bug flew into my mouth and down my trachea.  Not exactly what I needed, but after several deep coughs, I was able to dislodge the little fu*ker. It took me a couple miles to get my wind back and in the meantime I was passed by several.  The VMT has the best flow and I tried to recover on the descents.  I was happy to see flat ground again as I exited VMT and hit the connector to the Dwelling Loop.

I had my mojo back and made short work of Dwelling.  Upon entering South Loop, I slowly bridged to Mr. Polka Dot.  I call him that because what I remember of his jersey was a white base with dark dots.  As I got closer and closer, I began hearing this noise emanating from his bike.  I couldn't quite place the source, but it sounded like a bartender shaking a coctail mixer.

When I finally got on his wheel, I could tell that the sound was coming from his saddlebag.  He definitely had way more bag than necessary. And the noise! After 5 minutes I could not take it anymore.  But my legs were heavy and I just did not have the power to pass.  Finally, on the short steep rocky climb, he bumbled and I was able to make the pass.  Once the trail leveled out, I tried to break away, but he was able to hook back on.  OMG THE NOISE!  I took in some more gel, hoping my legs would get the energy needed to break away from him. But oh, no!  He managed to stay right there with me.  We came through the start/finish together and began lap 2.  By now I had been listening to his bag for 10 minutes or so.

I so wanted to tell him about the awesomeness of Backcountry Research's Race Strap, but mostly I just wanted the torture to stop.  It took the WHOLE VMT to finally drop him.  Now the only sound I heard was the whirrr of my I-9 hub ... as it should be.  Now that peace had returned, I started laughing about the whole ordeal.

Soon after I entered Dwelling, my lower back began to ache.  This was surprising since I was on my geared bike; it usually only happens on my SS and only when racing for 5 hours or longer.  It definitely affected my power output.  I found myself standing and stretching on several of the descents.

The South Loop was a blur, not because I was going fast, but because I just wanted to be done.  My back was jacked and it was not fun anymore.  For me, this trail was the most difficult because if it was not tight and twisty, it was rocky and rooty ... hard to find flow.

I finally smelled the barn when I hit Mosquito Flats.  A few minutes later, I rolled across the finish in 2:39, not quite the time I was looking for, but good enough for the W.

I must commend Lisa and Kathleen for the BEST COURSE MARKINGS EVER!  Hi vis pink, at eye level, and plenty of confirmatory flagging beyond each and every turn.  Never once did I have to scrub speed and wonder.

Sharing the podium with the lady who inspired me to do downhill faster, BA Loretta!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

6 Hours of Warrior Creek Race Report

A bermalicious experience!

Last year when Melissa Cooper asked me to team up with her for this event, I was on the fence.  Just days before, I had received a heartbreaking email that this edition of Warrior Creek was going to be the last.  I really wanted to race the finale in the solo SS division.  I couldn't give Melissa an answer just yet.  And then, just before registration was to open, I received another email, stating that 6WC would live on under new management.  Hallelujah!  I told Melissa I was in.

After realizing that Melissa had raced 6WC twice, but had yet to stand on the box, my goal for this race was to secure her one of the infamous mugs.  And we were both using this race to prep our fast twitch muscles for Marathon Nationals.  We both had plenty of long rides under our belt, but needed to get in some speed work.

And then a first for 6WC:  they released a starter's list.  Whoa!  15 ladies' teams and some tough competition to boot!  I flip-flopped back and forth on what gear to run and finally settled on 32/20.  I had used this same gear 2 years ago when I teamed up with Ursula and had happy legs then.  I knew I would get shuttled back pretty quickly at the start, but with the heavy training load leading up to this race, I did not think I could push a 19.

I had Melissa hold my spot at the start while I did a lengthy warm up. Gone are the days when I can just hammer hard from a cold start. About 10 minutes from "go time," I approached the start line, but then hung out for a couple extra minutes, just watching Melissa squirm a bit.  You see, she was in her long pants and tennis shoes.  She definitely got nervous about whether or not she was going to have to race that first lap!

Finishing up the parade lap.

I had given brief thought to racing my geared bike for that first lap, thereby avoiding all that nonsense that happend mid-pack.  But the purist in me would not allow it.  Not to mention I would be black-listed by the SS community.  It seems every year I get to wrap handle bars with a fellow racer.  This year was no different.  Some gearie rode "up my butt" and entangled his bars with mine.  How we managed to not go down was a small miracle, but after a couple pedal strokes, we were able to free ourselves.  Nothing like a little adrenalin to help keep my HR and cadence up!

The first lap is always highly entertaining for me.  In the beginning miles, I was behind a dude that was jumping everytime there was a rise on the trail.  He was making me tired just watching him.  After a mile or so, he began to fatigue on the climbs and I was able to pass.

Then I came upon two dudes racing so close to one another it looked like they were on a tandem.  I soon found out they were "momentum-challenged" when we approached a steep descent followed by a sharp left-hander with a high berm on the right.  I seem to remember some centripetal force equation from physics (F = mv*2/r).  Anyway, this particular berm was slightly muddy.  For whatever reason, the dudes brake checked upon the approach to the berm. I was about 2 bike lengths back, my mind frantically making calculations to avoid the imminent crash that was about to happen.  Well, the dudes reached the highest point of the berm, but slowed down to a point where gravity intervened and sent them both sliding down the berm and off the trail.  I managed to put in enough power in 2 pedal strokes to maintain the minimal amount of speed necessary to clean the berm.  (I would have loved to have had a GoPro for that one!)

After about 6 miles, I found myself mostly alone, and able to find a good sustainable rhythm. Although the gearing was perfect for the climbs, I noticed that I was a bit too spinny on the flats.  I began to doubt my gear choice.

I rolled through the transition area and Melissa took off.  Now, only time would tell.  After cooling down and refueling, I went to check the first lap results.  We were in third!  Hells yeah!  Now to wait for Melissa's return.  She came rolling through about 3 minutes down on second.  Our goal looked achievable.  I took off after Hannah, hoping I could reel her in.  My legs came back around rather quickly and I was in a good zone.  With no traffic, I could save any matches I had left for the last lap. I focused on being smooth and consistent.  I soon came upon another SS'r; it was Kip!  Sweet!  He soon began to talk all about the past couple months, with most of it focusing on P36.  How he could manage to talk in sentences, all the while pedaling a tall gear, I don't know.  A real motivator for sure.

We rode most of the lap together ... and he was racing solo!  When I pulled through the transition area, Melissa yelled out that I had gained some time on second place.  Boom sauce!  Could we secure second?  It was worth a try.  I've got to hand it to Melissa.  She dug deep into her arsenal of fitness and was able to catch Lilly on her second lap.  They came through the start/finish, separated only by seconds!

Oh, boy!  The race for second place was on!  Upon entering the single track, only about 50 yards separated us.  I pedaled so fast, I thought my legs were going to become entangled around the bike like a bolo.  I was equal to Hannah's speed on the climbs, but was losing time on the flats.  Now I was really wishing I had a 19.  I could only hope that she would blow.  But mile after mile the gap slowly increased.  Around mile 7/8 I lost sight of her.  Ugghhh!  Oh well, now I focused on finishing up with a clean run.  I did not want to make any mistakes that would cost us our 3rd place.

Melissa and Lilly were on pins and needles that entire race, waiting to see who would exit the single track first.  I rolled though the finish, 1:07 behind Hannah. I was stoked that we were able to secure a position on the podium and accomplish our goal.  This was the first time I had undergeared for a race. I am not sure that had I chosen a 32/19 that it would have made any difference in the outcome, as Hannah and Lilly are super strong young women.  But, what I do know is that Coach Lynda has me on track to potentially become the strongest I have been in my mid-forties.

Stoked to share the podium with some uber strong women!

So thank you, Melissa, for asking me to partner up with you. Sometimes the best races are not the ones you win, but the ones that push you beyond what you thought your limits were.