Sunday, August 21, 2016

Night Train 6 (of12) Hour Race Report

Leading up to the Marji Gesick 100 in September, I decided to do the Night Train 6 Hour race at Fontana Village this past weekend.  With afternoon weather conditions potentially calling for severe storms, I didn't want to travel all that way and the race to be called.  So, I signed up for the 12 hour, which started at 10am, and planned to race for 6 hours (The 6 hour event started at 4pm)

Nicely deteriorating, algae covered bridge at the bottom of Turkey Shoot.

I've raced SERC races on this course and knew it would have some challenging techy bits that would be similar to what is coming up at the MG100.  I was also trying out some new nutrition:  peanut butter filled dates.  I am normally a Skratch and gel girl, but wanting to see how a bit of protein and fat would fuel the engine.  And I had just had my new dropper post installed on the RKT, so I was eager to see how that would be to my advantage on the descents.

True to Pisgah Productions starts, it was raining.  Not enough for me to don my characteristic shower cap, but enough that I decided to carry it with me, if things got worse.  Unfortunately the turn out was low for the 12 hour:  2 four man teams, 1 two man team, 1 solo male, Mike Pierce, and I.

Immediately out of the gate was a steep grunty climb.  Having not pre ridden, I was totally in the wrong gear!  Shifting up about 20 times, I got into granny and made it to the top.  Then through some grassy, energy sapping fields, up another couple grunty double track climbs, and finally onto the Llewellyn Cove Trail, where I could shake the lactic out.

It was raining just enough to make the rocks and roots slicker n snot, but surprisingly the dirt portions of the course were hero dirt.  I was super happy about lowering my seat on the fast, tricky descent. Climbing back out was a series of short, steep ups.  I could clean them all save for the very last half of the last one.  Just enough roots to cause me to spin the rear wheel out and not having the power in the legs to recover from those 1/4 turn pedal turns.

The course was a figure 8, each lap 7 miles with 1100 feet gain.  The second half of the course was on the resort property and was run CW on the Whiting Trail, some double track rocky climbs, and the Piney Ridge, and Turkey Shoot Trails.  This portion was much harder than the first half.

Those double track rocky climbs were like climbing up 10-20% grades on baseball size marbles. Needless to say, I was off the bike in a few spots.  Once again, just not enough power and could not keep a smooth torque.  It might have had something to do with the week of training leading up to the race:  3 gym sessions and 2 interval sessions.

The upper half of the Whiting Trail was littered with roots.  Holy cow, I was all over the place!  By the time I had the lines figured out in the latter half of the race, fatigue was lending a hand in the difficulty of progressing through the trail cleanly.

A short bit of pavement led to the Piney Grove Trail.  And a nice hike a bike up to the top.  Curses you, Eric.  But, of course, it just would not be a Pisgah Productions event, without a bit of pushing. There was a reward at the top: a 1 mile 500 foot descent.  Kinda tricky, with off camber turns on pine straw, sharp switchbacks, and rutted out gully washer sections.

I was able to get in 6 laps.  The first was 52 minutes and the remaining five hovered around 57 minutes.  The thunderstorms never came.  The light rain on laps 1, 3, and 4 allowed for practice in slick conditions (a first this season).  Aside from a yellow jacket sting on the second lap and the usual Pisgah Productions level of suffering, the bike and I came away unscathed.

23.5 pounds of full on fast!

I am truly enjoying the Niner RKT.  At first I was a little concerned with the 10mm less rear travel, but I really don't notice the difference.  I figured out the finicky rear lockout switch and use it alot. Although the dropper post added a bit of weight, the advantage of being able to get the seat out of the way on sketchy descents makes it worthwhile.  The short chainstays make for easier maneuvering around switchbacks and better traction on uphill out of the saddle hammering.  The only issue I am having is a SID RCT3 fork that just doesn't feel right and won't lock out.  I hope to have this issue remedied in the next few weeks.

The Night Train 12/6 Hour Race is a lap race worthy of "the buckle."

Friday, August 12, 2016

Drama Queen Ride Report

In its 9th year, I finally had the opportunity to do this one.  And boy, did I pick the right year!  When I saw 56 miles and 9419 feet of climbing, I knew the suffer factor would be high.  Right up my alley! The ride is a fundraiser for the Ellijay Mountain Bike Association.  Mike Palmeri and Co. work their arses off politickin' with the suits to ensure that we have some of the best damn trails to ride in northern Georgia. Mike's pre-ride briefing was short: 1) Aside from the SAGs, this is a self supported event.  There are no course markings. You are on your own. 2) We will not come look for you. 3) This ride ain't a joke!

At 9am, 60 or so set off at a leisurely pace.  Up P3 was a rude awakening for the legs, but I was in my happy place, in the woods riding dirt ribbons.  Lisa and I were riding together: I had a gpx file and a paper map to back it up.  I let a few guys around me, as they seemed to be biting at the bit.  For me, today was about keeping a steading endurance pace.  About 1/2 way up, on a short descent, I noticed a hole in the trail 15 yards ahead.  Before I could think twice about stopping, I saw that it was a yellow jacket's nest, with about 50 of those little bastards buzzing around.  I gave it my best bunny hop and awaited the stings of pain.  None came. How I came away unscathed, I don't know.  I yelled out as loud as I could about the impending danger, but Lisa took 3 hits.

At the top, I took a breather while Lisa took some prednisone.  Randall and Mary came up behind us, pushing a gear on their single speeds I would never have any hopes in turning over on the steeps. With the course being unmarked and their aging eyes having a time reading the cue sheet, I told them how to get to P4. Wondering how they were going to finish this ride without wandering in circles, I hit P4 to Tatum Lead to Hwy 52 to Fort Mountain. Once we entered the park, Mary and Randall were looking all confused and glad to see Lisa and I.  They hopped on the train and we all enjoyed a nice paved descent all the way down to the campground. Then a hard right onto Trail 302 and I got the pleasure of climbing all the way back to the top.  It was here that Lisa had her first Drama Queen moment.   This was beginning to feel like a Pisgah Productions event.

The trails in Fort Mountain are wide, but steep and "marbly," similar to Club Gap in Pisgah.  Mike was nice enough to put in a few small signs to guide us through the trails in the park. I stopped at SAG 1.  Although I was not in racer mode, the volunteers were.  "The first group of 4 is only 4-5 minutes ahead.  They did not even stop!" cried one volunteer. Another volunteer gave us a play by play on how to get down the mountain to the paved road.  "Left, right, left, left, right, ... and after that I lost him.  It was quite comical; how many would be able to sort out all those rights and lefts?

After taking a couple gels, which, by the way, Honey Stinger has the best vanilla gel ... ever, I got to slide down Fort Mountain.  That was a hard descent.  I was wishing for a dropper, but managed to keep the bike upright.  A few pitches approached 20% and were littered with baby heads, similar to the upper section of Farlow Gap.  Speeding down Emery Creek road, I was greeted by the "par for the course" parasite riddled pack of mixed breed curs that wanna mess up your day.  I was able to out dodge them, and hoped Lisa would, too.  I waited around the next bend for her.  I was happy to see her make it through the gauntlet.

A bit of pavement before we headed up the forest service road to Windy Gap.  I did not realize until Lisa told me that we would be going UP Upper Windy Gap Trail.  With Tibbs being decommissioned a few months ago, we could not take Milma to Tibbs to Lake Conasauga.  Oh, goody!  I was careful to keep my Drama Queen moments all to myself. Lisa, not so much.  So after climbing the roller coaster of Lower Windy, I then had the pleasure of HAB'ing Upper Windy.  4 miles and 2000 feet of climbing!  I had a 30T ring up front, but was really wanting a 20!

The Wall on Upper Windy

During this hour and 15 minutes of hell, when I was not riding, I was experimenting with hand positions (left hand on grip, right hand on grip, stem, top tube, seat, seat post) hoping to find my bike's G-spot, and be carried up the mountain by sheer pleasure.  Yeah, well, that didn't happen.

The air was stale and thick on the climb.  The sweltering heat had sweat dripping from my nose like a leaky faucet. Unable to approach gnat speed, I was inundated with them ...but only on my left side, weird.

Towards the top, when I was slogging through a particular hard section and had my head hanging down, I heard something.  Rounding the bend, I saw the biggest black bear ever!  Put two English Mastiffs side by side and that is how big he was.  I'm sure what saved me from running right up his ass was the whirr of my wheels!  He bounded all 350-400 pounds of brute mass up the trail like it was nothing.  I am thankful my I-9's have a second use as a bear deterrent.

top of Upper Windy Gap

Once I was able to hop on the bike and ride the remainder of Upper Windy, I found peace and was able to work on skills I will need for the upcoming Marji Gesick 100 in September.  This stretch of Windy felt like Laurel in Pisgah.  I sessioned a couple areas while waiting on Lisa.

Stopping at SAG 2, Lisa and I were told that we were the first ones to arrive.  Say what?!?  What happened to the guys ahead of us?  They must have strayed off course.

Sufferin' and smilin' is how we roll!

Lisa destroyed her heels (even adventure race veterans make rookie mistakes) on the HAB up Windy, and stopped for a moment at the SAG to apply Band-Aids.  I took the time to refuel on Honey Stinger Pink Grapefruit energy chews.  I am not sure if it was because of the intensity of the ride or the product itself, but I was quickly growing fond of Honey Stinger.  Their products hit the spot, even the Pink Grapefruit flavor was surprisingly tasty.

I was really trying hard to suppress the inner racer in me, especially after being told we were in 1st! After a few minutes we were off on the 12 miles of gravel to Mountaintown Creek Trail.  At the higher elevations and with some clouds that had rolled in, the temperature was bearable.  With a cool breeze on the descents, Lisa and I were able to make good time to the next SAG at Three Forks.

The volunteers were happy to see us; they had been there a couple hours just twiddling their thumbs. We had first dibs on the food and were treated like royalty. As we were pulling out, Matt rolled in. We came to find out that he, Chris, Chris, and Dave had made a wrong turn coming down off of Fort Mountain.  Took them a mile or two before they figured the error of their ways.

I let Matt around me as we entered the single track.  I figured he wanted to make some time on us as well as his buddies who had lagged behind on the gravel section.  I also wanted to enjoy this descent, by myself.  The trail was spec-friggin'-tacular!  It was like a cross between Avery Creek and Cantrell Creek in Pisgah.  There were 14-15 creek crossings.  Most were rideable, which is what I don't remember from when I had ridden this trail about 7-8 years ago.  I remember it being more like Farlow Gap's creek crossings.  All in all, I would say I rode about 10 of them.  The 4 crossings I walked across either had rocks thick with slippery algae, or entry/exit points that had steep penalties for failure.

One of the 15 creek crossings on Mountaintown.

As I was approaching the end of the trail, I saw Matt off in the bushes. He warned not to approach, saying that it was not a pretty sight. Apparently the burrito he had eaten earlier put his system into overdrive and now he was fertilizing the flora.

Popping out onto Gates Chapel Road, Lisa decided she had enough and was taking the pavement back to Mulberry Gap. After 6 hours, I was spent, too, but the racer in me had to finish this beast! Matt and I rode up Bear Creek Road, then onto Bear Creek a short ways, before the steep, but usually easy climb up P1.  It was here that Matt pulled away.  I still had a bit left in the gas tank, but anytime I made any hard effort, I started getting goose bumps and felt light headed.  A sure sign that I was a couple steps away from heat exhaustion, I had to throttle back.  Which made the death climb up P1 go ... on ... forever. However, I still had enough focus to have fun on the descent.

A short uphill gravel pedal to P2 and I was on my way to enjoying a feast at Mulberry Gap.  Chris Coren caught me here. We hashed over how our day went; he was a bit nervous that Renee might disown him for encouraging her to do this ride. He pulled away towards the end of the climb, but I was able to keep him in my sights on the descent. The P2 descent is one of my faves in this neck of the woods.  As I popped out onto the gravel, Chris had caught up to Matt.  I was glad to see Matt just up ahead; I figured I was so slow in the last miles that I just knew he was already at Mulberry enjoying some frosty brew and the endless burritos.

I rolled into the barn a little after 4pm, 56 miles, 9500 feet, and 7:25 total time.  3rd finisher out of 10 total, I believe.

I grabbed my two beers; not for me, but for Charlie and future kitchen passes. Just one (of many) niceties of starting a ride at MG is the shower at the end.  No "whore baths" with just a gallon of water.  A nice hot, or in today's case, cold shower, is icing on the cake. Afterwards, I was treated to a HUGE grilled chicken salad; no burritos for me due to my gluten allergy.  And, NO ONE goes hungry here at Mulberry Gap.

Yep, that pretty much puts this ride up there with the Pisgah 111 and ORAMM.  And I found Eric Wever's evil triplets in the likes of Mike and Ben.  That was one heck of a ride.  Thank you to everyone who made today's sufferfest possible!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ash Bocast and Roam Rydes

I've been meaning to tell you all about this extraordinary person I met for awhile now, but life kept getting in my way.   So, after an intense week of intervals and my legs begging for attention, I now have the time while I do some recovery in my Elevated Legs.

When I was in Montana, I participated in a Liv Ladies Weekend, hosted by Ash Bocast.  She works for Liv Giant as a demo driver.  She worked her arse off, seeing to it that 19 women had an amazing time riding bikes, hanging out, and drinking beer.  That weekend was by far, the most relaxing 3 days I have had in a long time.

Ash and the volunteers, up early, fixing a feast at Whitefish Bike Resort

While Liv Giant pays the bills, her passion is discovering ordinary women who loves bikes and inspire others.  A little over a year ago, she started a podcast series, Roam Rydes, in which she interviews some pretty amazing ladies.  One of those podcasts is about two great bike resorts, Mulberry Gap and WhiteFish Bike Retreat.  And just this past March, she started a second podcast, Cycology, which is an educational series for women.

Ash and her trail buddy, Ryder.

I encourage you to head over to her website and take a listen.  You will not be disappointed.

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!