Sunday, August 6, 2017

With A Heavy Heart ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So pro, with the squiggly SID.

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

I am in the background, 7 months pregnant.

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

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

I will cherish these forever.

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

Before Swiftwicks were Swiftwicks, they were WickWear.

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

One of the original bottles.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the memories!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Butt'r Makes It Better ... And Bigger

Chamois Butt'r decided to go big earlier this year with the release of their 32 ounce pump style container in both the Original and Her versions.  I got my hands on this several months ago.  At $59.99 retail, it is a steal, especially when compared to some of the other top brands of chamois cream.

The first time I used the pump with a bottle of Chamois Butt'r Her, however, I was disappointed.  It took forever to get the product out.  I mentioned this to Curt Shelman, the man behind product development, when I hung out with the Chamois Butt'r crew during the Dirty Kanza 200.  We had a rather lengthy discussion about this new pump while pre riding the day before the race. He told me that it was possible that I just got a "bad apple," and to try another pump.  He also mentioned that the Her product had the highest viscosity of the 3 formulas (Original and Eurostyle being the other two). He wasn't totally satisfied with the pump, but at the time, it was the only one he could find that would fit the 32 ounce style of bottle they were using.

When I got back home, I swapped out pumps and indeed I had gotten a defective one. But, it still took 3-4 pumps to get out enough quantity sufficient to slather my chamois.

Fast forward to just last week when Curt sent me a brand new pump. This one has a stronger spring mechanism and will pump twice the volume (8 ml as compared to 4). Hallelujah!  This new pump is on steroids.  After I primed it by loosening the top and jabbing it up and down in the thick butt'r, I screwed it back on and with one pump had plenty to slather.  I pumped one more time for good measure and my nethers were in heaven.

I give 5 stars for this new pump.  If you have yet to try the Chamois Butt'r line of products, I double dare ya!  They were the first to develop chamois cream and have been doing so for 18 years.  The Her product kept me chafe free during the DK200 and the Dirty 130.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Dirty 130 ITT Report

After working for 3 days, getting up at 4 am on Thursday, and having an unfavorable HRV score, I was going to be in for a long full day of suffering.  But to us crazy bike addicts, we need this fix, and I am no different.   I love pushing my body and my mind.  I love discovering that I can exceed my perceived limits.

This route takes place in my "backyard."  I have ridden about 70% of this course, but in bits and pieces.  To do this all in one day, self-supported, required a bit of planning.  I used the same set up as for the Dirty Kanza 200, to which I added water purification tabs and some $$.

Bike:  Niner RDO RLT
Wheels:  Industry 9 Ultralite CX (23.5 mm internalwidth)
Tires: Maxxis Rambler 60tpi 40 mm front, 38 mm rear
Drivetrain:  SRAM Force CX1 with RaceFace Next SL crank, 10-42 cassette, and 34T chain ring
Bar:  Easton EC70 AX gravel bar (love the 16 degree flare, more control)
Seatpost:  Niner RDO
Seat:  Specialized S-Works Phenom
Pedals: Xpedo M Force 8 Ti

2 Revelate Design Mountain Feedbags and Oveja Negra TT bag

Topeak Mini Morph pump

2 King titanium cages in the frame and 1 on the fork

Backcountry Research strap holding 2 tubes, CO2, and tire levers

Gear I carried:  2 tubes, 1 CO2, 2 tire levers, 2 patches, Dynaplug kit, patch kit, 2 quick links, derailleur hanger, extra bit of chain, valve stem, multi-tool with chain breaker, lube, duct tape, zip ties, twistie ties, Chamois Butt'r Her single serve packets, water purification tabs, a shower cap, Presta to Shrader converter, and a Wet One (just in case I had to make additonal race weight).

Not knowing which stores might be open and what they offered (since I am celiac, my choices are limited) and knowing what my body fuels the best on, I carried all my calories. I also started my ride with 56 ounces of Skratch.  I love my Hand Up Gloves water bottles as they carry 28 ounces each.

- 7 gels, 1 of which was caffeinated
- Fizz electrolyte tabs
- 3 Honey Stinger gluten free waffles
- 1 Ally's Bar
- 1 RX bar
- 2 home made rice cakes
- 1 Honey Stinger chews

5:45 am start

Dawn was breaking as I left Kim's propery off of Greasy Creek Road.  I immediately began climbing on pavement.  Turning onto Kimsey Mountain Highway, which starts out as a rough paved unlined road. Around the 3-4 mile mark, I had my first dog encounter, a large Great Pyrenees, who was sleeping in the road (just tells you how traveled this road is).  I screamed at him in my most manly voice. He gave a half hearted chase for about 10 yards.  Nonetheless, it got my adrenaline going. The road turned to gravel in another mile or so.  After climbing for 10 miles and 3000 feet, I hit the ridgline just in time to watch the sun peak out from behind the mountains.  Spectacular.

Turning left onto Smith Mountain Road (FS 80), the gravel got chunkier and the road bed contained slabs of rock.  It was mostly downhill with a few rollers. One of the most technical descents of the day; glad I was fresh!

A right on McFarland Road (FS23) gave way to smooth gravel.  A couple miles on this and then I made a left on Lost Creek Road (FS103). Another fairly smooth road with minimal gravel.  One of my favorite gravel roads in this area as the climbs have a nice grade (4-6%) and have some rolling sections to keep the legs fresh.

28 miles in and I popped out onto Hwy 30 with a nice paved descent into Reliance.  I stopped at Webb Store,  Although they didn't open until 9 am, the bathroom door was open and I was able to refill my bottles, and re-Butt'r down under.  It was here that I filled up a 3rd bottle, for I knew I had a ways to go to get to Coker Creek.

I crossed the Hiwassee River bridge and took a left on Hambright Road (paved).  After a few miles, it then turns into an old abandoned 4 wheel drive trail with HUGE mud holes.  There is a railroad that parallels this section, and when I have ridden this in the past, I have used the railroad tracks to avoid this mudfest and the creek crossing which can be very deep.  But, for this ITT, one must take the trail, as it technically is illegal to travel on the tracks.  AND, which could ruin Kim's chances of getting the proper permits for a race in the future.

The beginning of the 4WD trail

Fortunately the creek was only mid-calf deep and the mud holes were mostly passable.  I did have to bushwack around 2 large ones that took up the whole trail.  And am now waiting to break with poison ivy!

Creek crossing and the trestle I used to walk across, back in the day.

Be wary of trying to ride the edge of these mud holes.  This mud is like peanut butter!  And they are deep enough to house a Loch Ness monster.

Just one of many mud holes along this 0.4 mile stretch.

Turning right onto Spring Creek Road (FS 27), I enjoyed the 4 mile flat smooth gravel that parallels the creek.  As I passed the gun range, which I have done a million times before, someone shot off what sounded like a cannon.  Scared the bejesus outta me!

Left onto Hwy 315 for a short ride on pavement over to Starr Mountain Road (FS 44).  It starts out with a short climb, followed by a short descent, and then a 3 mile grind to the ridge.  Well, it seems that everyone with a rear wheel drive vehicle decided to drive up this gravel in the week previous, as the road was chewed up; ALL the gravel was loose.  It was like climbing on marbles!  I was glad I had changed my ring from a 36 to a 34 as I was unable to stand without spinning out.

At the top, I pulled out my phone, since I knew I could get a signal.  I let my husband know I was 46 miles in and doing well.  I called Zeke as well.  After a short ridgeline ride, it was on to a super fun fast descent. I shot out onto Bullet Creek Road down to Hwy 315.  Left on 315, a short ride, and then right onto Ivy Trail Road.

Now, I was thinking that the "connectors" from 315 to 68 and then later on 68 to 315 were just going to be some rolling pavement.  Oh, no!  Ivy Trail went straight "the hell" up.  And this is where I said, "Good God!" the first of many times to come.  And when I thought I could go no higher, around the corner it continued UP.  Yeah, one of those roads. There were a few more paved roads (Towee Falls, Epperson, and Hot Water) before I crossed Hwy 68 over to Coker Creek Welcome Center.  I think I had another dog encounter somewhere along here.

About 12 pm and starting to get hot and sticky

At the welcome center, I was at mile 68.  I went inside to use their restroom and see what food they had to offer.  Don't put this on your list as a reliable source of nutrition.  There was a basket, maybe 2 feet by 1 foot.  In it was 10 tiny bags of chips, 10 packs of crackers, a few single serve packages of Oreos, and then about 20 mini size Milky Ways and Baby Ruths.  I did buy a few Baby Ruths, just because I used their facilities to refill my bottles.

After doing a mental calculation of my nutrition (200 kcal/hour) and water (20 ounces/hour), I was on track.  Having to pee was also a good sign. I set a 15 minute alert on my Garmin to remind me to drink and fuel. I turned on my phone to see if I could call my hubby with an update.  No service.

Joe Brown Hwy soon turned from pavement to gravel (FS40).  This was also another nice climb and shorter than I had remembered.  It was a small victory to see the sign for the Unicoi Multiuse Trail so quickly. Heading down the backside of Unicoi Gap was another fun, fairly smooth descent.  There was a lot of loose gravel in the corners, so I had to put my drifting skills to use.  Much harder on skinnies!

At the bottom, I took a right onto Shuler Creek Road (FS 1322) and enjoyed the 5 mile flat fast gravel over to the Buck Bald climb.  This also parallels a beautiful creek.  I used the easy miles to stretch out my upper back, particularly my left shoulder, that was beginning to ache.  I kicked it into a harder gear as I approached another potential dog(s). One gave a pretty aggressive chase, but I still had some energy to channel my inner Mark Cavendish.

Taking a right on Old Hwy 68 (FS 311), I began the 6 miles climb up to Buck Bald.  I love this climb, but I usually don't have 76 miles in my legs. Today, it was a grunt.  This is where I first felt some heavy fatigue in the legs.  Mentally, though, I was in a great state.  If you don't already know, the reward at the top is well worth it!

Never gets old!

The required selfie for proof of doing the 2 mile out and back.

The descent off Buck Bald down to Hwy 68 was quite chunky.  I felt a rear wheel rim hit and slowed it down a bit.  A short ride on Hwy 68 before turning left onto Bailey Road.  Trudy had warned me of the dogs here.  No joke!  Two large pit bulls who looked like they wanted to rip my throat out.  And it was on a climb, so I could not out sprint them.  I had prayed while descending down FS 311 about what I was about to encounter.  The last thing I wanted was to be taken out by a serious crash caused by a dog or getting bitten.  50 yards away and they saw me and started coming after me.  Off to my left in the middle of the road was a 4 foot rather stout tree limb.  I picked it up.  Stopped those two dogs dead ... in ... their ... tracks!  Apparently they knew what this object could do.  It got me safely by.  Note:  these dogs are on the left about a 1/2 mile after you turn left onto Bailey.

After this encounter, Bailey Road then shot straight up into the heavens. Good God!  How can it be uphill both ways? Meaning, from 315 to 68 seemed all uphill and now that I am going from 68 back to 315, I would expect more downhill.  I was now around mile 87 and found myself weaving back and forth on my 34 x 42! I turned left onto Duckett Ridge and was still climbing.  This soon turned to gravel (FS 22).  Guess what?  Still climbing!  Finally I hit the ridge and FS 22 suddenly became fun. Fast and rolling and then a great big descent!  I envisioned this descent carrying me all the way down to Childers Creek.  But soon I was greeted with 2, maybe 3 big ass kickers. Legs hurting, I struggled to maintain an RPM of 50 on these loose gravely climbs. Good God!

Eventually the whippings subsided and I had some rolling gravel and then pavement (Duckett Ridge, Fingerboard, Cox) over to Childer's Creek Road.  Mostly downhill, I saw mile 98 on my Garmin. When I hit the Childer's Creek-Powerhouse Road intersection, I made the decision to purify water out of the Hiwassee as opposed to the 0.5 mile out and back to the convenience store.  0.5 miles just sounded too long at this point in my journey.

There is a grunty little climb on Powerhouse before you descend down to the river.  This is then followed by 3-4 miles of pleasantly flat pavement.  I had a chance to look up at the sky and saw dark clouds in the distance.  There was a 30% chance of afternoon storms.  Even though it was hot, I did not want to have to dodge lightning bolts once I was back up on one of the highest points of the day's ride.  I stopped at the river put in, used their restroom, and filled 2 bottles out of the river.  The clouds appeared to be getting closer.  Well, nothing like a brewing storm to motivate me to push a bit harder.

This ought to be another required photo as it is just a cool pic to add to the FB page.

After crossing the suspension bridge, Smith Creek Road (FS236) greets you with a loose, marbly 3 mile climb with just enough false flats to question your sanity.  Good God!  This was a slog.  I was at mile 105 when I turned left onto McFarland Road (FS 23).  A nice 3 mile reprieve for the legs, but I knew what lay ahead.  I had made it a little bit easier in my mind by telling myself that this course is really only 120 miles, as the last 10 are all downhill.  So it did help at the moment, knowing I only had 15 to go.  But, it was mostly uphill, with one of the gnarliest gravel roads ahead.

As I began the final grueling climb on FS23, the rain started, light at first, but then it got to the point where I needed to put my shower cap on my helmet and my phone in my Ziploc.  Yes, a shower cap. It keeps the head dry and a dry head equals a warm head, which helps to keep the core warm.  And it keeps the rain from running into my eyes.  The rain subsided at the top.

Turning right onto Ditney Mountain Road (FS 66) I figured I had 7 miles to go to the final descent. This road is more like rugged rocky double track; definitely one where I would prefer a mountain bike.  The slabs of rock that stretched out across the road where wet and slick.  It was about 1000 feet of hard climbing (on very tired legs) in 5 miles.  Good God!  Halfway up, I took my phone out.  I had cell service so I called Zeke and Charlie.  Just beyond where I called, I came across a series of 8 downed trees.

My bike suddenly got heavy hoisting it over all these blow downs.

With about 2 miles left of FS 236, I heard thunder and then the heavens let loose.  The road was soon transformed into a creek.  That made for an interesting descent to FS 68.  Once on FS 68, I still had 4 miles of climbing left.  I was motivated to get finished before I got hypothermic. I rode those last 4 miles hard, not feeling the lactic in the legs, but feeling the adrenaline in my veins as it continued to thunder.  Thankfully I never heard nor saw a lightning strike.

Well, the motivator of the last 10 miles being "free miles" came to an abrupt end 1 mile into the descent.  The rain had let up, but the "smooth" road I had thought while riding up this section in the wee hours of the morning, had suddenly become very bumpy and rocky.  The rocks were now wet and the dirt sections were muddy.  The clouds had settled in, lowering the visibility.  I had also forgotten to eat anything in the past 90 minutes, so I bonked ... on a descent.  I got light headed and with all the jarring, thought my head was going to fall off.  I had to stop and take some food in.  After a couple minutes I felt like I wasn't going to pass out, so I got back on the bike.

Final descent, after the rain let up.

A few minutes later, I thanked my sponsor, Industry 9, for their buzzing hubs.  As I came around a corner, a rather large black bear was running down the road in front of me and then shot up the 30% grade hillside like a missile. I am pretty sure he heard me as he was running all out by the time I saw him.

The final descent took twice as long as I had thought.  Happy to hit the pavement, I knew the only obstacle that lay ahead was the Great Pyrenees.  Sure enough, he was there, but since I was going downhill, I blew by him before he could do anything.

I entered Kim's property at 6:40 pm.  My time was 12:54:03.  My Garmin said 128 miles and 15,700 feet of climbing.  It felt like a lot more climbing than that.  And, it was.  Topofusion calculated it at 130 miles and 18,271 feet.  I'm going with Topo.  Moving time was 12:11.

Kim Murrell did an awesome job laying out this course.  Beautifully brutal course with a mix of pavement, gravel, rugged gravel, and spectacular views.  The GPX file was correct and at no time did I worry I was off course.  I love the self supported nature of this event.  It is, by far, the hardest 1 day gravel event I have done.  In my book, it even trumps DK200.  Put it on your list, you crazy gravel ginding crack heads!

Final thoughts:  I had 5 dog encounters, just cannot remember all but the two I mentioned.  I suppose that is because they were the most aggressive.  Water is not a problem, food may be.

The start/finish on Kim's property is primitive, but beautiful.  And complete with a nice cool creek to soak your legs.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Dirty Kanza 200 Race Report

The Race

In 2006, Jim Cummins and his late friend Joel Dyke wanted to torture ... err, challenge racers to a self supported gravel race of epic proportions.  They mapped out one big loop of 200 miles.  34 showed up that year ... and Dirty Kanza was born.  Since then, the race has evolved into 4 distances: 25, 50, 100, and the premier 200 miles.  And it has gone from 34 entrants to 2300+!  Although Jim and his volunteer army of 150 work tirelessly to ensure an amazing experience, YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN.  No race organization support is provided.  There are three checkpoints, each roughly 50 miles apart, in a town.  It is up to you to either have a support team to meet you at the CP's and provide the necessary assistance and refueling or sign up for the crew-for-hire services from the Never Let Go Fund. They provide support crew services to you and the proceeds go to support their mission of helping families battling childhood cancer.

Pre Race Festivities

The town of Emporia rolled out the red carpet for the racers.  There were tons of activities in the 3 days leading up to the race.  Group rides, a concert, an outdoor expo, Q & A sessions, and new this year was the #200women200miles initiative.  After a lackluster number of women participants in the past, this year, even though the race sold out in less than 2 minutes, 200 spots were held for women for the 200 mile distance.  Those spots sold out in 24 hours. Throughout the months leading up to the event, the organization helped women prepare by having clinics and training camps.  The day before the race, there was a round table event for the women held in the Granada theater and was also on FB live. Now this is how to empower women to race their bikes without feeling out of place or intimidated!

Also unique to this year, the premier of Blood Road was shown at the theater on Friday afternoon. This documentary was about Rebecca Rusch's quest to ride her bike along the Ho Chi Minh trail and find where her father went down in his A4 during a bombing mission in the Vietnam War.  I watched it and tears were shed.  I highly recommend this, not just because it involves cycling, but gives a different perspective of that war.

Got caught taking a selfie!

My lead up to race day

I was a bundle of nerves.  My competition was not the other women, but the course and Mother Nature.  My goals were 1) to finish, and 2) to "beat the sun."  I was jonesing for the Race to the Sun Patch, which, in order to receive, one must finish by 8:45 pm.  The start was at 6 am, so that gave me almost 15 hours. I knew I could do the distance, but was worried about the time. I checked my weather app no less than 100 times. I've heard horror stories about the course, especially if it rained.  Peanut butter mud that would gom up wheels and rip derailleurs off. And the weather forecast was not looking good ... initially. Heck, even as close as 48 hours prior, there was a 50% chance of storms.  And I had heard the winds could be steady at 15-20mph.

If you know me, I was very much prepared.  In my resupply bags, I had ample nutrition, a change of clothes and shoes, rain gear, extra lights, and a spare "everything" for my bike. On the bike, I carried all the necessary supplies and tools to fix any problem that I was mechanically capable of. Registration was fun!  From the local girl scout troop giving us free boxes of cookies to efficient lines to the overwhelming amount of schwag, I was in and out in less than 10 minutes.

Zeke and I stayed at the Emporia State University dorms.  The University was kind enough to house and feed us for $135/person for 3 nights.  We were only a 2 minute pedal from the start.  There was a microwave in the lobby so that I could brew my Christopher Bean coffee and reheat the meals I had prepared.  I would definitely stay there again.

Race day I woke up at 4am.  After fueling up on CBC Caramel Macchiato with honey, a banana, and a Honey Stinger waffle, I checked my bike over one more time and pedaled over to Commercial Street. The butterflies were swarming and with a few minutes to spare, I meandered over to the Porta-John where there was amazingly no line to make race weight.

To mentally get through the day (and possibly night), I broke the 200 up into 4 50 mile races.  It is much easier to focus on a 50, which I do all the time.  I just had to do 4 in a row!

Race #1: Emporia to Madison, 48 miles, 2400 feet gain (Free Speed!)

I positioned myself on the start line around the 10th row.  I knew I needed to stay up front to increase my chances of avoiding any crazy stupid situations that almost always arise as the race goes from a controlled start to letting loose the hounds of hell.  The first few miles were quite pleasant as 1150 racers made their way out of town under police escort.  With no yellow line rule in effect, I did not have to battle for position with elbows extended.  The pace was perfect, allowing the engine to slowly come to life. I felt there was no need for a pre race warm up. Once we hit gravel, the race began. It was fast! The dust was thick and tiny rocks were getting kicked up in my face. Not wanting to have to see the dentist upon my return home, I kept my mouth shut and teeth covered.

Knowing that I could most likely sustain this effort for 50 or even 100 miles, but definitely not 200, I fell back into the 3rd, or 4th group. There was a quote from Rebecca Rusch that stuck in my mind. She was once asked by a racer why she started so slow ... to which she responded, "Why do you finish so slow?" In my new contingent of racers, I was comfortably able to manage a pace that would last.

As I had heard stories of, soon racers began having flats.  In my best estimate, I would say 1 flat per mile.  That made me nervous.  And for the most part, it was like I had read about:  just after a descent, riding through a wet or dry creek bed where the sharp rocks were more exposed.  I took no chances and eased my way through these crossings, often times scrubbing some speed and watching those ahead to see which lines were best.  And saying one of my mantras: float like a butterfly.

Midway through, I caught up to Jill Martindale.  She was her usual bundle of joy.  I filled up on her bubbliness while we made our way to CP1 in Madison. I had set my GPS timer to go off every 15 minutes in order to remind myself to drink each time and eat something every other time. This worked wonderfully for me throughout the race.  The first segment flew by quickly as the peloton worked like a well oiled machine.  As we approached town, the pace quickened, racers eager to get to their crew, re supply, and begin the next 50.  There was a nice little kicker leading up to the checkpoint at the local high school that blew the peloton apart.

Once at the checkpoint, madness ensued.  Imagine trying to find your support crew among 700! They had broken up the area into 5 colors to try to make it a bit easier.  I was looking for yellow.  Luckily, I had full support from the Chamois Butt'r team and finding them was fairly easy. As I pulled into my area, I was immediately assisted by Mitzi, Steve's wife (CEO of Chamois Butt'r) and her son.  While I wiped down my chain and applied lube, they refilled my 2 bottles (I had ridden with 3, but only drank 2).  I was feeling great and had no issues.  As a final act, I also "re lubed" my taint with, but, of course, Chamois Butt'r!

Race #2 Madison to Eureka, 56 miles, 3200 feet gain (The Road to Nowhere)

Headed out, the pack had thinned and I found myself alone.  That was fine, as I was blessed to not have to fight against the typical Kansas headwinds.  At the most it was only 10mph. The temps were still cool and the legs were still in great shape.  I had managed to keep my heart rate in the high 140's in the first 50 miles, which for me is in the aerobic range.  I still had plenty of gas in the tank and my nutrition was spot on.  As I pedaled, I took the time to look around and gaze at the beauty of the Flint Hills and the boundless prairie.  With the abundance of rain, the grasses were green and wildflowers were everywhere!  The terrain became hillier and evidence of man's existence became less.

C. Heller Photography: 2017 DK200 Race Day &emdash;

After awhile I came upon a rider with a Lauf kit utilizing a Lauf fork. We traded pulls and eventually got collected up in a small group. It turned out that he was the owner of the company. Needless to say, he was faster on the descents, but I always caught him on the climbs. Eventually the rubber band broke and he fell back.

There were just as many racers off their bikes on the edge of the road as in the first segment, but this time they were not changing flats, but taking nature breaks.  Fortunately for me, my urinary tract is able to "shut down" during a race of even this magnitude.  Otherwise, I might have caused a crash or two, as there were no trees to hide behind.

As I made my way to Eureka, the group's dynamics would change as some decided to surge ahead, new riders would join, and some would pop off the back.  I did my fair share of pulling, to which I believe most appreciated. Of course, I did not provide much draft, so at times, the second in line would come around and that was o.k. by me.  But there was one dude that I felt did not like the idea of being helped by a woman, because I tried twice to pull him, to which he responded by quickly whipping back around me and then trying to break away.  What ... ever!  I just laughed under my breath and went along my merry way.  After a couple hours, he was reeled back into the group, shuttled to the back, and then promptly popped off, never to be seen again. Karma!

Around mile 90, I was fortunate to become part of a large group that hammered the last 10 into Eureka.  I met another female Chamois Butt'r rider, Jamie, who was looking strong.  We chatted for a bit, but our conversation ended when the front half decided to ramp it up even more.  I let them go, as those speeds were too much for me.  Knowing from experience, I needed happy legs for the next leg, which is around the time that I usually hit my low spot in a race of this distance.  I still had a nice little group for the final 5 miles into the checkpoint.

Entering the Eureka High School, I heard my crew yelling at me before I saw them.  This time, none other than Mr. Chamois Butt'r himself, Steve Matthews, was there.  He and Zeke took over my Niner RLT RDO and busied themselves getting my chain all cleaned and lubed up as I had my 3 bottles refilled by Mitzi.  Once again, I applied more Chamois Butt'r.

Race #3 Eureka to Madison, 58 miles, 3200 feet gain (Chamois Butt'r Pain Train)

With another quick transition, I was back on the bike and back to grinding.  I've been told that this is the hardest, so I mentally prepared myself to enjoy the pain that was about to ensue.

As I pedaled up the road, I saw two Chamois Butt'r riders.  I pushed hard for a few minutes and made it up to them:  Elliot and Jad.  Little did I know at the time, but these guys would make the last half of my race a memorable one.  Others joined over the next few miles and pretty soon we had a decent pack. Talking with them, I learned that this leg was the longest and most demanding.  It was also going to be in the hottest part of the day.  I was glad that I had added a fourth bottle at the last check point.

Jad was a powerhouse and perfectly built for these endless miles of mild grade rollers.  He looked like a defensive end.  He could motor on the flats for miles, bomb the descents and drop everyone, and was surprisingly strong on the climbs.  And he did a fine job of blocking the wind! Elliot was tall and lanky and rode a consistent pace like I.  For the most part, I stayed with them on this leg.  There were a couple times when I ended up by myself; once when the guys had to take a nature break and once when I just broke free on a climb.  I enjoyed the "alone" time, as the winds were not too bad and it gave me some time to think about the ride, the beauty of Kansas, and just how blessed I was to be happy, healthy, and able to conquer a feat of this magnitude.

Not like the "hills" of Tennessee, but still hurt the same, especially around mile 120.

The alone time would end when I would be swallowed up by the group, being led by the Jad The Destroyer. 2-4 pm was the hottest, but I could see rain off in the distance, which helped with cloud cover, and kept it cooler than what was predicted for the day: mid to upper 70's as opposed to the mid 80's.  The humidity was also low as I noticed that I was not sopping in sweat.  However, there was one 1 mile section near some houses where ground up asphalt had been laid down for dust control. This black gravel radiated the heat and it was sweltering!  And deep!  My tires sunk and instantly I had to turn up the wattage.  That was an SOB, for sure!

Along the way, I caught up to Tiffany.  She was motoring along on her Specialized Epic with skinnies.  I was most impressed with her position for not only her bike choice but what little preparation she was able to do, you know, because of ... life.  I then caught up to Desiree, the one who I battled for the Single Speed Marathon National Championship. She called me out, as she was single speeding and I was "cheating."  I laughed, but gravel and single speeding are like oil and vinegar, for me, at least.

Along this leg, the course had been re routed due to an impassable river.  Members of the local jeep club were along this section, to ensure we stayed on course.  Even given this, I was still a bit unnerved as my GPS would scream at me every few minutes that I was "off course."  After 8 hours of racing, your mind can begin to play tricks on you and staying focused can be difficult.  The self doubting left me, however, once I got back on the original course.

About this same time, I developed a case of sour stomach.  This is when your GI tract begins to rebel at processing and your food just sits there and nothing happens.  And which is why I carry along a plain bottle of water.  When I get a case of this, diluting it out with water is the trick for getting back on track. I also have to slow the pace little as well, which can be frustrating.  But, I know, this must be done, in order not to completely shut down.  After 90 minutes, I was feeling much better.

C. Heller Photography: 2017 DK200 Race Day &emdash;

But then my feet began to develop hot spots.  My left big toe and the outside of my left foot felt like they were on fire, a searing pain.  I actually looked down at my foot expecting smoke.  It lasted for 20 minutes and then ... just ... left.  I dunno!

I began to notice fatigue setting in at mile 150.  The legs began to get a little achy, and a fog began to develop in my mind.  I felt myself looking less at the landscape and more at the ground in front of me, or if I was lucky enough to find another racer, at their rear wheel.  I became less talkative and just more concentrated at turning the pedals over.  Checking my nutrition and my fluids, I had more on the bike than in the body.  So I focused on eating/drinking a little more, hoping to shake off this feeling of emptiness.

Those 12 miles to the third checkpoint seemed to last forever.  Finally, my tires hit pavement. Rolling into downtown Madison (CP 3 was at a different location than CP1), I began to look for the yellow flag.  Two riders just ahead of me stopped dead in front of me.  I had to lock up the brakes to avoid a collision.  What were they thinking?!?  I suppose they were in the same fatigue induced stupor that I was.

I rode onwards and at the end of the town still did not see my support vehicle.  Slightly panicked, I saw some Chamois Butt'r people and asked where Zeke was.  I was told to backtrack a couple hundred yards to yellow (they had been mistakenly put in orange). Turning around and pedaling back, I saw Zeke jumping up and down and waving his arms. My spirits instantly lifted when I saw my "gravel trail angel"!

While I grabbed more food and refilled just 3 bottles for the final segment, Zeke worked on the chain again, cleaning and applying more lube.  My bike was in great shape, but with the few muddy creek crossings and all the dust, I wanted to make sure that my drive train was as quiet and efficient as possible.  Once again, a healthy dose of Chamois Butt'r applied to the appropriate region!

Race #4 Madison to Emporia, 45 miles, 2100 feet gain (Shut Up Legs!)

"Only 45 to go, you got this!" I told myself.  And I noticed that for the most part, it would be a tailwind all the way.  I managed to hook back up with Jad and another racer that I had seen off and on the entire race. His name was Paul and he was riding a Why gravel bike.  I asked him if he was the owner as a good friend of mine, Kim, also rode a Why bike and absolutely loves it.

As racers slowly came together, our group grew.  We were all tired, but were smelling the barn.  The roads became a little flatter and smoother and the pace picked up.  This is where I entered the pain cave.  It was either work hard and go fast with the group or work hard and go slow alone.

It stayed this way for the first half.  But then, some faster riders latched on and our group doubled in size.  The speeds picked up even more.  I ended up in the very back, the place not to be.  For whenever there was a minor change of speed up front, by the time it got back to me, it became a huge power surge for me to not get gapped.  I fought this battle for 5 miles before I popped.  I was alone, but at least the tailwind was still present.  I was still in a relative happy place because I knew I would accomplish my race day goals. My case of the "hot feet" flared up off and on during this final segment. The pain was almost unbearable, but I began to have other pains that distracted me from the awful foot pain.  My left wrist and left shoulder helped me to take my mind off my miserable feet.

So I trudged along on my alone for quite some time.  Then I began to see a couple riders on the horizon.  As I continued to pedal, they got closer.  I recognized them as part of the group that I had popped off of.  Apparently their rubber bands had snapped as well. Soon we formed a trio:  Paul, a NBA-tall dude (so tall he made his cross bike looked like a 26'r), and I.  We worked together over the next 5 miles and then were joined by 2 more riders who had come upon us.   They upped the pace a little and my legs were all like,"Go away, we don't want to play with you."  But soldier on I did.

Closing in on the final few miles, we began scooping up solo riders. One was a woman whom I remember passing after the second checkpoint.  When she saw me, her eyes widened and she got squirrely. Paul noticed this and motioned for me to hop on his tail.  He pulled me back up to her and then pulled off to the side.  I guess he wanted to see some racin'!  I laughed and told him that I didn't want to race anymore, just finish.  But ... I hopped on her wheel anyway.  I didn't think she was in my class as she looked really young.  What the hey!  I decided to play with her, though.  Don't judge me. After 204 miles and 13 + hours, I figured I earned a game of cat and mouse.  No matter what, I was going to let her win.  I just wanted to show her that she could muster up some power in the final few minutes.  And perhaps help her to realize that the tank is never truly empty (something I learned at Marathon Nationals).  So I chased her until we hit the hill up to the university.  Once she opened the gap, I sat down and let her go.

Rolling down Commercial Street to the finish, thousands of people were present!  The cheers were overwhelming.  I hi-fived so many kids my right hand stung!  Crossing the finish line, the announcer called my name out.  Jim, the race director, shook my hand and gave me my Race The Sun patch and finisher's glass.  I later heard that he personally greeted every ... single ... finisher.  Another memorable moment was when Rebecca Rusch gave me a great big hug!  She had raced the 100, finished 2nd overall, got cleaned up, and then proceeded to be a part of the big celebration by welcoming the 200's back. What an inspiring athlete and person!  Steve Mathews was there as well to congratulate his tribe.

Once I dismounted, I guess my body realized that it was done working, and began to shut down.  I hobbled over to the side walk and then sat down in pure exhaustion.

That is the face of "I love racing my bike for 206 miles."

I want to give a big shout out to Jad, Elliot, and Paul for giving me shelter from the wind for a good portion of the day.  It definitely made this experience that much more enjoyable.  I cannot fathom trying to go at this beast alone. And to the Chamois Butt'r team for taking me under their wing and making me feel #sopro.

It was not until an hour later I learned that I had finished 3rd in my age group (40-49) and 10th overall.  Which got me thinking.  What could I manage with a little more specific training?  Future food for thought.

What an adventure!  I had always thought of Kansas as flat farmland with nothing more than rows upon rows of corn and wheat.  But the beauty of the Flint Hills was breathtaking. I did not even mind seeing gravel road upon gravel road rolling to the distant horizon.  And the countryside was so clean!  No dirty diapers, discarded mattresses or refrigerators.  I did see an old tire or two, though.

Icing on the cake!

Interesting Facts

# of chasing dogs: 0
% of women finishing the 200:  80.4 (record)
% of men finishing the 200:  84.3 (record)
# of women in all distances:  410 (record)
# of riders beating the sun:  399 (record)

The Gravel

As best as I can remember, I would say that there were 5 types of road surfaces.

1.  Asphalt.  5 % of the course
2. Hard packed gravel.  45% of the course. Smooth and close to "asphalt fast".
3. Loose and semi-deep gravel.  30% of the course.  One lane wide with 2 distinct tracks to ride in. As long as you stayed in the track, all was good.  Stray off the track and you could get squirrely.
4. Rocky base B road. 10% of the course.  Large slabs of rock in areas.  Lots of sharp flint.  The most technically demanding.
5. Black dirt base B road. 10% of the course. Hard packed ruts from tractor traffic.  And if it rains, turns to hellish mud.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Marathon National Championships Race Report

The spectators' favorite #.  For me, it was a finishing time to shoot for.

The butterflies were thick as I completed my warm up.  I managed to stay away from the start line until they called us single speeders up to the start.  After a few brief pleasantries were said to my competitors, I clipped in and took a few deep breaths.  This was the day I had been preparing since January.  Although there were a few hiccups along the way, the last 2 months had been very promising and my fitness was exactly where I needed it to be.  My competition was unknown, but they looked super fit with impressive quads and glutes! Yeah, don't tell me you don't size up your competition just like I do!

When the gun went off, Desiree took the lead, and I followed her wheel.  LaJuan hopped onto mine. The first lap was a 4 mile loop, of which 2.5 was relatively flat pavement which then funneled us into the last 1.5 miles of the 25 mile course.  It was a nice warm up, as I could only spin so fast.  Sitting behind Desiree, she seemed to be spinnier, as her butt bounced on the saddle.  I was running a 32 x 18, so it looked to me that she might have been one gear easier.  Turning onto the double track climb, Desiree made a move.  I stuck to her wheel like glue.  Towards the top and with no let up in sight, I was hoping this was just a little test and not something she could sustain for 50 miles. We began catching the age group men right away with this burst of speed.  Towards the top, LaJuan popped off and it was just her and I.

Finishing up the start loop, she once again surged ahead on the initial climb up Yellow Trail.  I was able to counter and hold her wheel.  She was definitely setting a hard pace.  I felt pretty comfortable matching it, but knew it was a bit faster than my race pace. With only 5 miles into the race, I began to see carnage:  first a saddle in the middle of the trail ... and then guys off their bikes working on flats. This course was loaded with sharp pointy rocks and it was definitely better to be a ballerina than a bulldozer!

Finishing up the Yellow, I had a short bit of pavement before the Green Trail.  Desiree and I passed a group of old farts, powerful ones I might add, and one of them called out, "I LOVE you Carey!"  It was The James Hoffmeister.  I am so glad he did that as it made me feel so special and gave me just a bit more "umph" to my race.

Beth and Jim, Senior Speed Specialists!

Heading up the long, arduous climb of Green, I felt that Desiree was backing off a bit.  Thank goodness, my heart rate had not left zone 5 for a very long time.  Halfway up, an age group woman passed us, paying us a nice compliment.  At the top, Desiree told me it was my turn to take the lead, and so I did.  I held the pace steady for awhile, but towards the end of Green, decided to pick up the pace for a couple minutes and see what happened.  I slowly pulled away and by the time I crossed the pavement and hit the Orange Trail, she was out of sight. But definitely not out of mind. 

The Orange, Blue, and White Trails went by in a blur.  I was still feeling great at this point and wanted to get as much distance between myself and second ... or at least not have her close the gap down.  The Green trail on the way back is one of the funnest sections of the course.  It is mostly downhill and has several neat rocky features.  As I was beginning the initial descent, my left foot felt funny,  My Xpedo pedal has some float, but not as much as I was feeling.  I shrugged it off initially, just overthinking it I told myself, but over the next few minutes it kept getting worse.  Oh, shit!  As much as I did not want to, I pulled off the trail, sat down, turned my foot over, and saw that my cleat bolts were 1 turn away from falling off my shoe.  Unbelievable!  I had checked all the bolts on my bike the day prior, but forgot to check my shoes.

I don't recommend this for your "A" race

I pulled out my Park IB-3 tool and attempted to tighten the bolts that I could barely see. I have presbyopia and use 2.5 reading glasses. I was having the fight of my life!  What with the dirt caked in the bolts and the #4 allen wrench being less than a mouse dick in length, I could not firmly seat the tool and had no leverage.  Normally I carry my trusty Park IB-2, but was thinking I needed to carry the bigger one because it had a chain breaker.  Finally, after what seemed a life time, but in reality was 90 seconds, I got it tightened.

As I stood up to hop back on the bike, Desiree comes flying by.  Great! Just great!  I took off after her, not like a bat out of hell, but with steadfastness.  No sense blowing up as there were still 29 miles to go. Slowly, over the remainder of the Green Trail, I reeled her back in.  As we hit the pavement connector back to the remaining Yellow, she asked if I had a mechanical.  To which I responded that I came close to having a one-legged race.

Getting the lead back, but not for long.

We pulled in the pits together.  Zeke was there.  I handed him my spent CamelBak, chugged a Red Bull, and then got my fresh CamelBak. My frustration level was rapidly rising as the tubing somehow managed to come undone from the strap to which I had attached it to. As I spent precious seconds re-securing it, I watched Desiree pull out of the pits. I had to tell myself out loud to calm down. By the time I entered the trail to begin Lap 2, she was out of sight.

Having used up my adrenaline during the past 30 minutes of playing catch up, I was hurting on the initial Yellow climb.  I needed that Red Bull to kick in soon!  I got caught behind some traffic on the second switchback climb on Yellow and had to get off and run a few short yards.  When I remounted, I felt IT.  The cleat was loose again!

So ... after finishing the descent down to the pavement connector over to Green, I pulled off, sat down, got my tool out, prayed, and began to work.  This time, all the while answering questions of the volunteer who was seated next to me, I got the damn thing tight!  This time I lost 2 minutes.

As I pedaled to Green, my heart was heavy.  All the training, all the planning, all the eating clean, all the recovery ... all for naught.  Now I was racing to hold on to second.  I had a good ole pity party as I struggled up Green.  Moving on to Orange, I was not only beating myself up mentally, but the trail was dishing out a pretty good ass-whippin', too.  My body was fatigued and I was beginning to feel like a pinball in the rocks.

Something changed, however, when I hit the Blue Trail.  Maybe it was the caffeine kick from the Red Bull or maybe it was just the fierce competitor in me kicking the monkey off my back.  But my attitude changed, and I was not going down without a fight.  I hit the White Trail with wheels a smokin'!  This trail is the flowiest, rippin'-ist one of the bunch and I enjoyed every mile of it.  As I was making my way up a climb, I passed a dude who told me that Desiree had passed him about 5 minutes ago.  That was what I needed to hear.  I yelled back, "The fat lady has not sung yet!"

Yellow Trail with multiple short, but sketchy creek crossings.

Hitting the Orange, I came upon the mud puddle from hell.  This time, instead of going left I hit it full throttle through the middle.  It swallowed my bike and almost sucked me under!  I lost sight of my bottom bracket and feet.  Fortunately I came away unscathed and worked my way up the climb, crossed the road, and entered the Green Trail.  As I was approaching the spot on the first lap where I had to stop, I checked my pedal while coasting through a section.  It was still tight, and I exhaled a breath of relief!

Towards the end of Green, on a climb, I passed a dude.  He said that "she" was just up ahead. I have heard this line before and a bit skeptical.  As I motored on, I drank several big gulps and swallowed a gel ... just in case.  I hit the 0.6 mile pavement connector to the Yellow.  No one in sight. I kept my cadence high, came around the corner on the straight away.  Saw a dude just ahead.  Kept pedaling. Saw someone beyond him way up ahead.  Kept pedaling.  Got closer. Jersey looked familiar.  Got closer.  Were those two pigtails coming out from under the helmet?!?  As I got within 100  yards, I knew it was Desiree!  The game is on!  I have got a race ahead of me!

She hit the single track about 75 yards in front of me.  At this point it was almost 2 miles to the finish. I began to inhale deeply, saturating my lungs with oxygen.  I needed to close the gap by the time we hit the double track climb.  There were two slightly sketchy creek crossings ahead.  Focus and stay steady, I said to myself.  No stupid lines here.

I caught her just as we crested a slight climb that would bring us to the left hander onto the double track.  I passed her, using every fiber of my being to max out the torque.  It felt like I was going to rip my handle bar off.  On to the climb, I fought like a criminal on an opiod high!  I prayed that my quads or hamstrings would not seize up.

I needed to open a gap on this 0.6 mile climb!  Desiree hung on for an uncomfortably long time ... and then she cracked. I unleashed a monster inside of me, breathing like I was at 14,000 feet, and embracing the lactic acid that had filled my legs!  I passed 3 or 4 others on this climb, who thankfully let me on by immediately.

I powered through the final rock garden. and then flew like a peregrine falcon down the powerline descent, praying a sharp rock would not rip my tire to shreds.  At the bottom of the descent, I looked back and did not see her.  I still turned myself inside out on the final stretch to the finish.  I crossed the line at 4:26:32, defending my 2016 National Championship title!

A-freaking-mazing!  It was true!  I won!  I was so spent; I started seeing stars and had to sit down. Desiree crossed the finish line a mere 30 seconds back.  After feeling life flowing back into me, I went over to Desiree and we gave each other a great big hug.  She said, "That is what racing for a national championship is all about."  Words well spoken from a truly amazing woman and competitor.

We ended up being 3rd and 4th overall (excluding the Pro/Open).  I say this not to brag, but for the mere fact that she is 54 and I am 48. Proving that age is but a number and that you are never too old to strive for the top step.  And if you ever line up next to Desiree White, be afraid, be very afraid!

Lady SShredders!

Thank you to my sponsors who helped make my way along this path to victory a little easier:

I must give Lynda of LWCoaching a big shout out, as without her 12 week plans, I would be a little lost puppy in a pack of wolves

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dirty 30 XXC Race Report

The Cysco machine was ready, but was I?

Having felt some fitness gains during the Skyway Epic, I decided I needed to get back on my single speed and test my legs.  With Marathon Nationals only 3 weeks away, I needed at least one race on my Cysco SS before the Big One.

There were five of us fine ladies that rolled up to the start of the Mountain Goat Adventures cross country plus race at Blankets in Canton, Georgia.  This course has great flow and is a single speeder's paradise. Being a noon time start, it was going to be hot.  I chose to wear my CamelBak as there are not too many good spots to drink from a bottle while mashing one gear.

The start was as fast as I could spin a 32 x 20 around the parking lot. I, along with Naomi, hopped in behind the expert men.  Naomi took the lead and I followed along spinning the cranks as fast as I could on Mosquito Flats.  I was happy when the climb up VMT started, as I thought I was going to "throw a rod" carrying a cadence of 120+.  Soon I closed the gap down on Naomi and then fought to hang onto her wheel. My legs had not completely opened up yet.  I was hoping she wasn't going to kick it into next gear, as I would not be able to follow.

VMT was over before I knew it and we were on the flat section heading towards Dwelling.  My legs were coming around.  I could now enjoy the furious pace being put down by Naomi.  So smooth and consistent, it was fun following her!  We began working our way around a few racers, but were also having to let by a few from the wave that started behind us.  Everyone played nice.

Beginning the climb up to the South Loop, a tree grabbed Naomi's bar and threw her down promptly. I stopped and made sure she was o.k. She laughed it off, hopped back on her bike, and we were off once again, frolicking through the woods as two little kids would with a care free attitude.  I think this trail is the most technical. It has a few rock gardens that you have to pick your way through. But where I had an "Oh, sh!t!" moment was on the baby head littered chicane style descent.  Those rocks wanted my front wheel. It was a wrestling match all ... the ... way ... down!

On the second twitchy descent, Naomi went down, a victim of those little bastards.  She was fine, but this time, I came around her.  I picked up the pace slightly, expecting to hear her come bearing down on me anytime.  That never happened and when I hit Mosquito Flats, I ramped up the cadence, trying to put some time between her and I ... or, at the very least, not let her make up any on me during this flat as a pancake section of trail.

On the second lap, I focused on being smooth, resting on the descents, maintaining momentum, and giving it all I had on the climbs.  On a couple of the super steep sections where there was a technical aspect, I just did not have the torque to get up it.  So I had to channel my inner cyclocross racer.  I was beginning to feel the heat as well, but knowing Naomi was lurking somewhere behind me, I had to stay on the gas.  After she blew by me on the Noontootla climb during Southern Cross (like I was standing still), I knew I would not be safe until I crossed the finish line.

The South Loop seemed to have grown in length on this second lap. But once I was on the final climb, I was smelling the barn.  Soon enough I popped out onto the last half mile of flat and spun like a cartoon character all the way to the finish.

Shorts failure! 😒

Crossing the line in 2:40:02.  My lap times were pretty consistent, too. 1:19:46 and 1:20:16, repectively.  Happy with that, as I had felt much slower on the second lap.  Looking back at last year's time, I was only 40 seconds slower today.  So I do believe that I am climbing out of whatever funk I had going on earlier this year.  Which is a good thing, since my "A" race is just around the corner!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Skyway Epic 60 Race Report

Last weekend, Zeke and I traveled down to Sylacauga, Alabama in the heart of the Talladega National Forest to participate in a true grassroots event.  There were 3 options: 60, 100, and 200.  I chose the lite version, because 60 miles was about all the fun I wanted. The course was an out and back with three aid stations; the first/third was the same at miles 20 and 40, and the second was at the turnaround point at mile 30.

The weather could not have been better for the 9 am start.  Brent, the director, gave us a pre race briefing.  He told us that due to a large tree being down on the Skyway portion of the course, the turnaround point was going to be a mile or so farther.  Anytime the race director says "or so," just go ahead and add at least another 5 miles to the event.  Even though Brent had thoroughly marked the course with arrows, flagging, and spray paint, I still made a copy of the turn by turn directions and stuck them in my CamelBak.

There were 37 racers, of which 8 were women.  I knew only a few as it seemed most were locals. It was a short 100 yards of gravel road to the single track.  Go time came and I entered the Sylaward Trail system behind another woman.  It only took a few minutes for the pack to thin out.  Beth, who was in front of me, led a comfortably hard pace through the 11 miles of trail.  These trails were machine cut, and flowed well along the contour lines.  "IMBA-rrific," a term Zeke coined, perfectly describes them.

Sa-weet Sylaward single track!

The single track miles went by fast.  I carefully watched Beth for any signs of weakness but found none ... zero ... nada.  We popped out together onto Wiregrass Road.  This was a gravel road that rolled along for 5 miles.  Beth and I introduced ourselves while taking pulls.  I could tell that she was the stronger rider as I struggled to maintain any sense of speed on the short climbs.  Turning onto Rocky Mountain Road, I knew that I was going to pop off her wheel.  Beth slowly rode away from me on one of the short climbs.  Seeing my heart rate higher than I wanted to, I had to back off or risk blowing up later in the race.  This road was 2 more miles of rolling with the last 2 miles climbing up to Bull's Gap and Aid Station #1.

I was able to keep Beth at the very limits of my sight.  These gravel roads were smooth and fast, but I was feeling like a sloth and wondering about my bike choice.  I was riding my Niner RKT, but wishing I was on my Air 9, which was 3.5 pounds less.  Having chosen to wear my CamelBak, I did not need to stop at the first aid station.  I wanted to keep Beth in my sight, knowing that this would keep me focused and make the painful burning in my quads a little more bearable.

Right after the aid station came the grueling 2 mile, 1000 foot climb, up the Skyway Jeep Trail.  This was a rocky-ass rutted climb that had me almost in my 42 tooth cog.  Yes, Alabama does have mountains!  I enjoyed the technical nature of this road and glad I chose my RKT. Once at the top, it rolled for miles.  There were a few nasty descents and I was able to gain considerable time on Beth. They were gnarly and full of chunkiness and ruts, some of which were hidden from view until I was right on them.  Wide-eyed I let my body take over and was able to keep them from swallowing my front wheel by bunny hopping over them.  I had to embrace the "zig-zagging" mind of a squirrel to safely negotiate these sections, as there was no easy path to the right or to the left.

But then the climby sections would come and Beth would ride away from me.  Getting close to mile 30, I saw Beth off her bike.  Thinking that she probably had a flat, I slowed to see if she needed anything. There was another racer tending to her and when I stopped, I noticed she was having shifting issues.  I tried to say something comforting, but having been in that situation before, there were no words I could say to make it any better.

This was not how I wanted to get in the lead, and I questioned myself for a few minutes, as I soft pedaled up the road.  I actually felt guilty about being in first now.  But then I reminded myself of the times I had mechanicals and felt no ill will towards my competitors as they blasted past me.  After all, this is racing!  So I gradually picked up the pace back to suffer mode.

Now at mile 30, I entered the bonus mile portion of the course. Where oh, where was the downed tree, I wondered.  I knew I had to be getting close to the turnaround, as I was crossing paths with some of the lead group heading back.  The course headed down for 1 mile, 2 mile, 3 miles (meaning I would be getting bonus climbing on the way back ... oh, goodie!)  Finally, I saw the tree, with some Jeep peeps beginning to remove it from the road.  Just 50 yards ahead was aid station #2 and the turnarond point.

I refilled my CamelBak and looked for a tasty Hammer gel.  Nothing but apple cinnamon! I wonder why Hammer Nutrition continues to make this flavor, as I only ever see it at aid stations.  I was wanting an Espresso, but finally came across a lone Raspberry.  I inhaled it, got my zip tie for proof of hitting the turn around, and began the 3 mile climb back out of that hole.

As I was approaching the tree on the way back, I crossed paths with Beth.  I shouted a few words of encouragement.  I calculated that she was only a couple minutes behind me.  A little bit further up the climb, I saw the third place woman, Kimberly, coming down.  I knew these two ladies would be tasting blood upon seeing me, so I knew what I had to do to get the job done.  The only question was, could I?

Time to see what I had left.  I took it relatively easy on this climb back up to the ridgeline, allowing my stomach some blood flow to process what I had taken in at the aid station.  Once on the top, I began to push the pedals over quicker.  I brought my heart rate up to where I thought I could motor pretty consistently to the finish.  I also settled into a single speeder's rhythm of alternating standing and seated climbing to use ALL my muscles.  I still had my doubts of holding the lead.  Every little hill I crested, I fought the urge to look back, for fear of seeing my competition gaining.

I slowly caught up to a man wearing a Christian cycling kit. He was smooth and steady, so used him to pace me along the ridge.  I was definitely deep in the pain cave, but just kept telling myself that if I could make it to the long descent off the Skyway without being caught, I could get to the finish first. I was thankful for Mr. Christian Dude on the descent as he seemed to know the terrain and so I followed his wheel.  It was fun, but not easy.  I was constantly on guard for the many rutted sections and sharp rocks that were potential game enders.

We blew past the final aid station and I hit 35 mph on the smooth gravel descent back down to the rollers of Wiregrass.  As soon as the gravel turned up, Mr. Christian Dude popped.  I urged him to hop on to my wheel.  There is not much to draft off of me, but every bit would help.  He hung on for awhile, but told me he was spent.  There was still about 4 to 5 miles of gravel back to the single track and I needed to get back up to speed, so I motored on.  Those little rollers were kicking my ass.  I was feeling it in my glutes as well as my quads.  Uh oh, could that be a pre cramp twinge?  I took a few big drinks and swallowed the last of my gel.

With just a couple miles to the single track, two guys came around me like I was standing still.  They passed so fast and stealthy that I did not even get the opportunity to try and latch on.  That made me very nervous.  Was I fading?  Where were Beth and Kimberly?  Now was when I anxiously began to look over my shoulder.  What would I do if I did see them?  Could I mount any sort of counter attack?  I kept telling myself, just make it to the single track, just make it to the single track, where I knew I could hold them off.  Come on legs!

Somehow I managed to reel the 2 guys that had passed me earlier, right at the entrance to the single track.  Now was the time to dig deep.  David and Frank were soooo smooooth on the trail, I was having a blast staying on their wheel, even though my legs were screaming.  I stayed off the brakes as much as possible ... every bit of momentum was crucial right now.  A couple times I almost cracked, but stood out of the saddle and dug deep to remain with them.  With about 4 to go, Frank cracked and let me on by.  Now on David's wheel, I could tell he was in cramp management mode.  He had slowed down some, but I had no intention of passing, as the pace was still what I considered winnable.

The last trail before the descent to the finish, the Ridge Trail, went ... on ... forever.  I was so wanting to be done and around every corner, I was eagerly looking for the trail crossing.  Finally, seeing it, I could let all the negative thoughts that had been rambling through my brain over the last 2 1/2 hours go.  I cruised down and took the win!

Alabama has some fassst women!

Oh, and it was 66 miles, not 60.  And 6400 feet of climbing, most of that concentrated in the 40 miles of "roads."

I knew I had truly went to my limits on this one, as every muscle in my legs felt like they were being stabbed.  This pain continued for at least 15 minutes.  Did someone have a voodoo doll of me?  I drank a Coke and then a bottle of water, fearing I was dehydrated, and hoping that would help. Finally the pain subsided and I was able to change out of my kit and inhale some food.

If you want a race that will test your mettle, then this one is for you. The non single track sections were by far the hardest.  I was never so happy to see that flowy IMBA-rrific trail at the end. Don't expect a number plate, an aid station buffet, podium pay outs, or to have your hand held. If you want a challenging, "vision quest" type of course (which was well marked), unique trophies, a great post race meal and all the beer you can drink, put this on your list for 2018.