Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ORAMM Race Report

Wow! What a difference 4 years, an awesome coach, and a dry course can make! It is wonderful to reap the rewards of hard work and perseverance.

Zeke and I were honored to spend the weekend at Walter's cabin, along with his wife, Susan, and the Cowbell Dynamic Duo of Taylor and Connie. Saturday, I pre-rode Kitsuma. It was a good thing, too, as I needed to get back into the East Coast frame of mind. No buff singletrack in the Pisgah!

On Sunday, the race began with a neutral roll-out led by the North Carolina National Guard Humvee. Not too neutral, though, as the Humvee set a high tempo right from the beginning. Once we turned onto Old Hwy 70 and began climbing, the pace became vicious. I managed to stay up with the front group, pacing myself behind several guys. I knew that I needed to hit Kitsuma with a clear trail ahead, and avoid the line of walkers. I did and it was oh, so smooth sailing up the climb. I cleaned all but two switchbacks and those I just did a couple quick CX moves and was quickly back on the bike.

The descent was fast! I was feeling great and nailed the two technical ledge/root drops. However, I forgot about that first tight switchback to the left, the one with the big drop. I came in way too hard! Applying too much brake, when I dropped my front tire off the ledge, I went flying through the air. I just knew I was going over the embankment when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small tree. I grabbed with my left hand in a Tarzan-like maneuver, managing to land on my feet, just off the trail. Indy, however, wasn't so fortunate. She catapulted off the trail and ended up down the mountain a few yards. I do believe I heard a few expletives from her.

Amazingly both I and my bike were o.k. I finished the descent off Kitsuma a bit more cautiously. It took a bit for me to find my rhythm again; I did not want another, more serious disaster to happen. A short, paved section took me to the first aid station. Not needing anything, I proceded into the next bit of singletrack.

Finding my rhythm again, I felt light on the climbs. My race was going very well; the bike and I were one. Have I mentioned just how good the Era climbs! I popped out onto some doubletrack which rolled along for quite some ways. It was very overgrown with tall weeds, which I kept wacking with my Ergon barends. I think by the time I had finished this section, I had cleared the trail for those behind me and had a rather nice looking boquet on each end of my handlebars.

Rolling into aid station 2, I grabbed a bottle from Connie. Now, she was expecting Taylor to arrive before me, so guess wh0se bottle I got? I did not realize this, as both our bottles looked the same, until I took a drink a hundred yards down the road. The ice cold water was a surprise, but very refreshing. I could only imaging what Taylor's reaction would be when he took a swig of the Glacier Mist Rapidade. (Later, Connie told me she had realized what she had done and fixed it)

Then began the 10 mile climb up Curtis Creek. Now, here is where I fell apart for a bit. Having gone out so hard in the beginning, my legs could just not find the right gear. For the first 7 miles, I kept changing gears. Back and forth, back and forth, nothing was comfortable. I would hop on someone's wheel to try to pace me. But then I could see he was hurting as well and would have to move along ... alone. Finally, with 3 miles to go, my legs came back, I clicked the gears down a few cogs and rolled along at a good pace.

At the third aid station, I grabbed another bottle and then enjoyed the 3 mile descent, even though it was a bit sketchy with all the loose gravel. The first two miles of the 4 mile climb back up to the parkway I was busy looking for that magical gear. Then the legs were back ... again. Upon reaching the bridge that was under construction, I was behind a guy whose legs seized up as he was making his way across the narrow ledge. (Now, looking back, it was quite funny.) He was unable to move and was moaning in pain. I thought he might just fall off into the creek below. But at the time, he was costing me precious seconds, about 60 of them. He finally was able to back track and let me procede. On the other side of the creek, I passed another racer who was writhing in pain, on the ground, with leg cramps.

The guys at aid station 4 were awesome. One grabbed my bike, the other helped me refill my Camelbak. They also let me know I was the lead woman. I thought I was, but it is always reassuring when someone else tells you. From there I climbed the mile on the Parkway; it seemed like 5.

The 1/4 mile hike-a-bike was good for me. It reinforced 3 things: my shoulder was 100%, Indy is so freakin' light, and I CAN hike-a-bike and like it! Once at the top, I began the never-ending singletrack descent on Heartbreak Ridge. What a blast! Well, at least for the first 3 miles. It was rocky, rooty, with lots of drops. It was beginning to wear on my upper body after 30 minutes. I even passed one guy who had cramped up! Never seen that before, on a descent.

After what seemed like an eternity I popped out onto the pavement. That was short-lived as I turned right onto another gravel road climb. Only 3 miles long, but it was a bitch. Ughh! Come on legs, work with me. The Heartbreak Ridge had taken its toll on my quads and it took them a while to come around.

Once I saw Kitsuma again, I could smell the barn! I think I flew up that climb just as well the second time. I did the CX maneuvers on the same two switchbacks and I remembered the haneous left-handed switchback ledge drop this time. I dismounted for that one and ran it down. I think that switchback claimed a lot of victims for I saw tons of skid marks that ran off the mountain.

I hammered it on the pavement back to Old Fort and crossed the finish line in 6:19:23; good enough for first, but just shy of the course record set by Trish. Doh! I guess that means I am going back next year!

After cooling off in the creek, I was heading back to the van to get changed when I saw Trish in riding clothes. I just assumed that she had ridden bits of the course watching Sam. But later I saw her name on the results. Holy sh!t! She place second, just 3 1/2 months after giving birth. She is insanely amazing!

Zeke had a long, but good race. His trail angel qualities led him to help an injured rider (Julia) off the course. What a man! What a man!

ORAMM was well organized, well marked, had awesome volunteers, and great post-ride food and drink. Todd puts on a high quality race and I am sure the Pisgah Stage Race will be the same ... cannot wait!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Final Push

This weekend will be the last bit of prep work before TransRockies. Zeke and I will be racing ORAMM. This is where I was bitten by the endurance bug. Back in '05, soon after I met Zeke, he mentioned this "little" race in North Carolina. "Instead of riding around in circles on a groomed course, why don't you try ORAMM, where you can ride one big loop?" Zeke said. Sure, why not, I thought. It is only a little more than twice as long as the XC races I had been doing.

Well, 62 miles, 11,000 ft of climbing, and 7 1/2 hours later, after riding a 3-inch full suspension Epic, with rim brakes, a squiggly SID fork, and tubed tires with 35 psi, I crossed the finish line, thoroughly exhausted. Oh, yeah, it had rained, and parts of the course were so muddy, I thought I would slide off the mountain to my death. But Zeke had me, hook, line, and sinker. An endurance racer was born.

This time I will be going back with 4 years of experience, a wicked, fast bike, the Specialized Era, and 10 months of superior coaching. With a lot of hard work and a little Lady Luck, I hope to have a great race and give my body that last bit of max effort training before I head to Canada.

This whole year has been building up to TransRockies. Zeke and I will be racing in the 100+ division. Our goal is to podium. I am so ready! I could not say this last year, as I was skeptical of my self-coaching and I had no idea what to expect from a 7 day stage race. It appears that this year's course is very similar to last year's. Hoo Rah! I will know what to expect, can clue Zeke in, and I will know not to climb ALL THE WAY UP the avalanche chute on Day 2.

Thanks to my sponsors, I will have everything I need to perform at my best. Without them, the road to TransRockies would have been a lot harder. I probably would not have been able to race as much and my nutritional intake would have been subpar (i.e. less fresh fruits/vegies, more Ramen noodles).

Eddie of 55nine performance fame has fit my Era to me like Michael Jackson to his white glove.

Specialized, Ergon, Chamois Butt'r, and Swiftwick have all my body parts covered.

Dedicated Athlete has the perfect energy drink for me.

PowerTap has given me the tools necessary to convince me that, yes, my performance has improved.

Magura has given me the confidence to fly on the descents.

And, of course, Bruce, is always there to ensure my bikes are race ready.

17 days and counting...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Firecracker Race Report, Part 2

So, coming through the Start/Finish, after the first lap, I felt pretty good, or so I thought. I hopped back onto some singletrack which led back to the Boreas Pass climb. People (I think Erica and Josh) were cheering for me, which helped to get me pumped for the climb. I am Mrs. Consistency when it comes to laps, so I figured I would be able to ride the second lap aound 2:30 as well, especially since there would be less congestion on the singletrack.

The climb up Boreas pass went uneventfully. I was making about the same time as Lap 1. At Aid Station 1, I dropped my Camelbak and decided to run just water bottles. I figured I had enough calories left in my gel flask to finish the race.

But when I started the double track/singletrack climb back up to Iowa Mill, something bad began to happen (which has NEVER happened to me before). I was overcome with nausea and stomach cramps. Thank God I wasn't above treeline because I made a beeline for a large spruce ... and unloaded at both ends. After what seemed like an eternity, I forced myself to get back on the bike and soft pedal up the remainder of the climb.

I thought about throwing the towel in; well, for a millisecond, but once I got to the top of the climb, I started feeling a bit better. The descent down to Sally Barber mine and on down to French Gulch Road was a thrill ride; no people to pass, cramping was fading, and I didn't have to pedal.

The climb up Little French Gulch was painstakingly slow. I had to dismount a couple times as whenever I tried to power up, my stomach would remind me of what happened a few miles back. So I took it easy, crossed Little French Creek, and rode the flume uneventfully.

As I was coming into Lincoln Meadows, I passed a woman in my class, who was having a mechanical. Sweet for me, as I was back in 5th. Then just up ahead I saw Melissa. Knowing I did not have it in me to power past her, I went into "stealth mode," keeping a couple guys between her and I, and hoping my GI system would improve.

Climbing back up the road to Sally Barber mine, I began to feel the strength flow back into the legs. So, about 20 meters from the top, I said, "What the hell; let's see what I got." So I clicked Indy into the big ring and made a jump. I raced past her like a scalded dog. I knew there was about 1 1/2 miles to the singletrack, so I just hammmered. I felt for sure she would leap onto my wheel. But when I looked back after a minute or so, she was nowhere in sight. I did not let my guard down as I knew she was an excellent descender.

I passed a couple guys, hit the singletrack, and pedaled my heart out. Thankfully, I did not awaken the Gods of Spewing, and several minutes later, finished in 4th place.

All in all it was a good day. It could have been worse; I was just happy that there was not a DNF after my name. And I would not have changed how I managed the week leading up to the race for nothing. I had such a fabulous time with Zeke getting my Colorado singletrack fix in such awesome places as Salida, Gunnison, Crested Butte, and Breck. Memories that will last forever!

I am already trying to figure out how I can get back out there next year!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Firecracker 50 Race Report

Race day brought beautiful skies, cool temps, and thousands of people lining the streets for the 4th of July parade through downtown Breckenridge. The race would lead off the parade at 11am. No butterflies today! Just thoughts of having fun and finishing the race in one piece.

The 40+ open women class had 12 starters, with some super fast local (and by local, I mean Colorado) women. I was tired, but mentally prepared for a day of suffering. I was looking at this race as part of the bigger picture. I was going to treat this like a final stage of the TransRockies.

It was supposed to be a neutral start, meaning STAYING behind the lead-out volunteer, with a speed of 10mph, until we turned left onto Boreas Pass Rd. Then the race would be on. However, about half the field took off and proceded to pass the lead-out person. I stayed behind, as I did not want to be penalized or DQ'd. Not being from here, I was unsure of the rules.

But after I saw the group ahead of me getting smaller and smaller, I decided to go around the neutral start person, just before we made the left onto the climb. I took it relatively easy on the 6 mile climb up to Baker's Tank, hoping that those in front of me would blow up. I slowly reeled in several and upon hitting the singletrack, was in 6th place.

The first bit of singletrack was pretty mellow and flat, but to me it felt like I was still climbing. I soon found out that racing at 10,000-11,500ft was a heck of a lot different than riding at that altitude. Everytime I tried to hit the gas a bit to punch it over the short climbs, I sputtered. Not liking that feeling, I stayed in the saddle and spun it out as I had no "mashing" ability at this elevation.

This was the first race where I was passed quite a bit on the climbs by the guys. After what seemed like an eternity, the doubletrack topped out at the highest point of the race. From there there was some descending down some washed out doubletrack. When it came to descending on the first bit of singletrack, Nightmare on Baldy, I was stuck behind those same guys, applying WAY too much brake. So frustrating ... but that's racing.

Once we popped out onto the Sally Barber mine dirt road descent, I was able to get around them and one woman in my class. So now I was in 5th. After this super fun and ridiculously fast descent, I began the climb up the French Gulch. It started out easy and on doubletrack, but soon turned into singletrack and was wicked steep, with lots of loose shaley rocks. I was able to climb all but the last 20 meters or so, having to dismount, when several guys in front of me bobbled.

After I topped out on this climb, I was treated to some flat to rolling singletrack, the Little French Flume. This was fun, but would have been funner at 2000ft. I was still having trouble tunring over the pedals at speed. After this bit of singletrack, the course went up and down until it brought us back to the dirt road climb back up to Sally Barber mine. It was here that I was passed by Melissa, so I was once again in 6th.

After the 1 mile climb up to the mine, it was pretty much downhill to the Start/Finish line. I had an absolute blast on this 3 mile descent, especially once it turned to singletrack, with its swoopy, flowy lines. Not too technical, but it did have its share of rocks and roots. The final bit of singletrack into Carter Park was like a dual slalom course with its high banking switchback turns. Yee haw!!!

I may have been sucking wind on the climbs, but at least I could have fun on the descents and just let it go!

I rolled through the Start/Finish line with a time of 2:31. I was only hoping to do as well on the second lap, but my body had different ideas ....

To be continued ... (got a plane to catch!)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Colorado -- Days 3 and 4

Tuesday morning saw us leaving our gracious Salida hosts, Kent and MaryAnn. We were off to Gunnison, to explore Hartmann Rocks. I only knew that there were rocks and swoopy, banked turns.

When we arrived, it was like different planet. Out of the high desert plains, jutted up mounds of huge rocks. It looked like a giant had molded it out of brown play-doh. I immediately identified the supersteep dirt road climb up to the playground. Fortunately, it was dry, Namrita, as was the rest of the system. With bluebird skies and temps in the 70's, I knew it was going to be a good day.

The first techy rock trail threw me off a bit, as I just was not used to the granular surface and granite rocks. Not sure of the trail's name, this was one where you did not want to make a mistake or ride off the trail because you would likely fall to your death several hundred feet down.

However, after warming up and hitting a few more, I found my flow and thoroughly enjoyed the supersteep rocky descents and bouldery ascents. The Luge Trail, so aptly named, was a rollercoaster of fun. With its banked turns and smooth surface, I was able to rail it! The Rattlesnake tested my skills and left me exhilarated.

After 5 hours of fun and our bodies slowly turning brown in the Colorado sun, we packed up and headed to Crested Butte. This town is very quaint nestled in a valley surrounded by 14'rs. Zeke took us up along the Slate River to a campground which would be our base for the next couple nights.

Wednesday morning we awoke to cooler temps and tired bodies. Zeke was nursing some severe purple sage allergies and I was trying to move the lactic acid out of my legs which had 20 hours of riding under them. We headed to town and refueled at The Paradise Cafe. With bellies satiated, we went back to the campsite and from there began to tackle the dirt roads and trails.

After about an hour climb up the Slate River Road, FSR #734, and FSR #811, we topped out at 12,000ft to begin Trail #403. Most of the trail was rideable, but there was one 3/4 mile section of snow we had to hike through. And then the descent down to Gothic campground was pretty treachorous. Supersteep, with loose rocks, and several drop-offs, I took one spill. After that, I played it smart and walked a couple sections. Once again, no room for error! One mistake would send you head over heels down the slope for several hundred feet.

More fireroads took us to Snodgrass, Lower Loop, Upper Loop, and Woods Walk Trails. #401 was still heavily snowed in, so perhaps next time ... After 6 hours of bliss, it was time to call it a day. My heart longed for more, but my legs reminded me of a little race on Saturday! I could spend a week in Crested Butte and still not ride all the trails they have to offer.

Off to Breckenridge ...