Friday, July 26, 2013

XC National Championships Race Report

I dreamed about this day all year long:  imagining, focusing, and preparing for it.  But now it was here, and I could not wait for it to be over.  I was so nervous, I think my waking HR was 100.  I wasn't worried about me:  my body was ready, my legs were sparkly, and after pre-riding for 3 days, I knew every root and rock. What I was worried about was my bike holding up to the finish.  This course was tearing up tires like piranhas to a wounded animal.  I kept telling myself that most flats are due to rider error:  not knowing the trail of the rear tire, coming into a corner too hard and slamming on the brakes, or not keeping themselves light on the bike.  "Float like a butterfly" was my mantra for the day.

I arrived at the venue with enough time to worry some more.  I got my bike and gear ready.  I was going with bottles although there were just 3 spots on the course where I could comfortably drink.  Hydration packs and single speeding just does not work for me.  I needed to be light, not like a sherpa.  To ease the unease, I started my warm up.  I found some trail not being used in the race and reintroduced my body to the technicality of this trail system.

The lap was 6.7 miles long, with 900 feet of climbing.  Initially, we were to do 3 laps.  But after the Cat 1 Men race earlier that morning in which it was taking well over 2 hours for them to finish, and with alot of heat casualties, the officials changed our race to 2 laps.  I don't think anyone complained.  At 10:30 am, it was already 85 degrees and extremely humid.

As we were staging, I was trying to figure out my competitor's gearing.  Most seemed to be running anything from a 32/20 to a 32/22.  I chose a 32/22 for several reasons:  uber technical course, tight passing lanes, and short, grunty climbs.  The start was on gravel:  a short, flat section, followed by a steep, loose climb up to the the single track.

"GO!"  First pedal stroke and I was clipped in!  First goal accomplished.  I hit the gravely climb with one racer who was ahead by a wheel length.  I noticed from her pedal stroke that she probably had a taller gear than me.  At the top of the climb there is a short flat before the "holeshot."  At this point I was behind her.  She slowed ever so slightly just before the single track.  And here I accomplished my second goal.  I hit the single track first.  I wound it up and climbed like a mountain goat being chased by a leopard.  I knew that I needed to break the "rubberband" between me and 2nd place.  This race was short enough that I could push it for the first 10-15 minutes and then settle.  And so I did.  I had no idea how strong my competition was, but each one of them I imagined to be a Rebecca Rusch.

I raced like a "scalded dog!"  My heart rate was the highest it had ever been this year.  Hello 180's!  But to me, it felt good.  I wasn't hurting like I had been earlier in the season.  I was racing with no chain!  Unfortunately, we were the last wave to start:  all the age groups were ahead of us in 2 minute increments.  Within the first mile I began to catch them.  I passed about 23 women the first lap and about 16 the second lap.  I chose my passing lanes wisely so as not to burn too many matches.  It was a little frustrating as I had to wait longer than I wanted to with a few passes, but I kept telling myself that it would allow me to motor hard to the finish.

More rocks than dirt on this course!

Even though it had rained the day before, the first 2/3 of the course was in great shape.  No slick spots, even the section with the "spiderweb" of roots was fine.   I was railing along, passing racers when they would bobble or when the trail opened up enough for me to squeak on through.  I was feeling the flow of the trail and carving the turns with ease.

Spiderweb of roots.

As I approached the infamous rocky switchback descent, I heard a dull roar that soon escalated into a cacophony of sound.  Riding down the first steep rocky, rooty descent, the noise was like that of a SEC football game.  Unbelievable!  I was so focused on the trail that I could not see the people, but I felt their presence.  There had to be over 100 spectators yelling, screaming, shaking cowbells, blaring air horns.  It was deafening!  It was awesome!  This is what a National Championship race ought to be like!  I smelled hotdogs!  I caught the whiff of beer.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a devil.

Other than 1 planned run up, I had cleaned this section during the pre rides (with only the sound of my tires and brakes).  I had found it a bit hard to focus at first.  There was a wall of people on either side of the trail.  After the run up, I could not clip back in and so rode the hardest part with two rock drops on top of my pedals.  That was quite interesting.  Lady Luck was with me, I had no forced errors, and once the trail leveled out, was able to clip back in.  The first switchback was easy peasy.  As I approached the second switchback, I came up the leader of the 44-49 class.  She was walking the tight left-hander.  I shouted out to her, she ran quickly through the switchback, and I was able to roll right through.

I quickly caught up to her as there was more tricky descending.   After that, I figured I could get on by.  She was racing hard, too, and did not want to give up her position, even though I was not in her class.  This part of the course was pretty slippery from the rain the day before.  At times, I kind of felt like a pinball.  The woman in front of me was all over the trail.  Her "bobbling" made me bobble;  the game was getting old fast.  I needed to go!

By this time my heart rate had settled down and I began a one way conversation.  "Nice lines!"  "Are you in first?"  "You are rocking it!"  Finally the trail opened up and she let me on by.  Climbing up the loose gravel to the Start/Finish banner she tried to hold my wheel.  By this time, I was in no mood to play anymore and kicked it up a notch.  First lap complete in 47:35.

As I climbed up the beginning single track, I tried to look back down at the finish line to see if I recognized anyone in my field.  I did not, but I still felt pressure to go, go, go!  And I did.  And it HURT!  The climbs seemed twice as hard and if I redlined it, I would get the chills.  My body's way of telling me to slow it down or I was heading for heat exhaustion.  So I settled ... as much as I could.

The ladies I passed this lap were much more pleasant.  I think they were feeling the effects of the heat and the brutality of the course as well.  The first 3 miles of the course had about 80% of the climbing.  After I had topped out, I began the initial descent, which were several segments of trail connected by gravely double track.  On one particular sharp right hand downward turn onto the single track, I was tag teamed by a tree and a rock.  They SLAMMED me down pretty hard.  With cat like reflexes, I was back up in the blink of an eye.  My bike was o.k. but my right forearm was bruised and bloodied.  No bones sticking out, all joints still worked, fingers able to grab the bar, so I continued on like a rabbit being chased by greyhounds.

I was anxious to get to the technical, bouldery descent with its infamous switchbacks.  When I arrived, I was hoping to be alone, so I could just work my magic on the rocks and drops.  But alas, that was not meant to be.  I had caught up to a younger racer who was not at all happy playing on the rocks.  She went down pretty hard.  I had to dismount and maneuver around her.  Thankfully she was o.k. Had she not been, there were at least a hundred people that would have tended to her.

Finishing up the rocky descent!

After remounting, I was able to clip in and joyfully ride the remainder.  How I loved these Pennsylvannia rocks.  You not only had to be fit, but technically proficient.  A real mountain biker's course!

The last couple miles I had a clear trail ahead of me.  I had no idea how far second was behind me, so I just hammered as hard as I could without blowing a gasket.  With just a 1/4 mile of so of single track left, I came upon Tiffany Ballew's wheel.  She was riding strong.  I encouraged her to keep pushing until the end.  And she did.

We kicked it up a notch together and rode across the finish line together, each of us earning a Stars n Stripes jersey!  What an incredible feeling!

A dream come true!

 Second lap completed in 48:24.  Even though I imagined second place to be breathing down my neck the whole race, she ended up 7 1/2 minutes behind.  When I told my Mom, she said, "You had time to have a picnic."  Those were her words, not mine.  But it was good to feel so strong on a day that you have been training for so long.  It was truly a no chain kind of day.  I am thankful for all those who have helped me to get to this point:  family, coach, sponsors, and friends.

Jay Sandefur was there for me when my brake broke during the first pre ride.  He "MacGyver'd" it with duct tape and zip ties.  He also had the perfect bottle hand off and ice water down the back maneuver during the race.  Ursula Sandefur raced as well and earned a silver!  It was great to hang out with the Sandefurs for the week.  I learned alot about bikes and components as Jay builds frames.  His brand is Wild Card.

I have challenged Coach Lynda with all my trials and tribulations the past two years.  I have made her really earn her coaching fees.  At times she knew my body better than I.  She helped me stay focused on the task at hand and not dwell in the past.  Thanks, Coach!

A huge shout out to Bruce Dickman who was able to hook me up with Chris George, the Stan's No Tubes Pro Women's team mechanic, who swapped out lever assemblies the day before the race.

Call me superstitious, but I left the duct tape on.

And thank you, Zeke, for being the best training partner I could have.  I would say when and where and he would be there.  No matter how long or hard a day in the saddle or how many times we might wander and wonder, he was always there for the next adventure.  He can't complain ... he was the one who got me into this racing craziness to begin with.

Hmmm ... what is next?

Friday, July 19, 2013

XC National Championship Eve

Tomorrow is the big day.  This is what I have been preparing for all year.  The butterflies are swirling; Zeke said they are dragonflies, ready to do battle.  I keep telling myself that I have done everything I can do to get ready.  I am not worried about me:  the legs are sparkly, the mind is focused, this is my kind of course.  My concerns lie with the bike.  Will the other brake break?  Why is my shoe making that squeaky noise when I pedal?  Will my tires hold up?  Will my chain break? And the list goes on.

I must let go of the negatives and focus on the positives.  It is going to be hot and humid.  The course is uber technical.  Consistency is the key.  I have great support.  I love rocks!  I have lots of new red blood cell friends to fuel my muscles.  It is my race to lose.  This is the list I must replay in my mind tonight as I drift off to sleep.

Today I went for an easy spin to just remind the legs of what is needed of them tomorrow.  "Spin to win" and "float like a butterfly" will be my mantras.  I found a little park to do some laps, practice my start, and work on some CX maneuvers for the trainwrecks that will most likely ensue on this true mountain biker's course.

Nice 1 mile loop to spin out the legs

My left shoe was being all noisy so I loc-tited the bolts and then went for a little spin in the hotel to test it out.

Yes, I will always be a kid at heart.  And luckily no one burst out their room door!  I go off tomorrow at 10:30.  3 laps with some tough competition.  I WILL have fun, ride my own race, be safe, and the rest will fall into place.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Marathon National Race Report

As I lay in bed the night before the race, I began to second guess what I had done in the week leading up to this one.  20 hours of riding is not how one should prep for a National Championship.  My legs were heavy, my head was aching, and my stomach churned with butterflies.  This was not what I had come to Idaho for.  Back in the spring when I began to plan this trip, the only thing on the agenda was to "just ride."  It was not until mid-May that my friend asked, "Do you know what is taking place the week you are going to be in Ketchum?"  I had no clue that the Marathon Natz was gonna be there.  "Oh, hell!" was my reply.  Now I had to race!  I did this before back in 2009:  24 hours of riding in the Colorado mountains topped off with the Marathon Natz in Breckenridge.  I placed a respectable 4th in my age category then.  Back then it was gears; this time it was only gonna be one.

There were 6 ladies in the single speed division.  Andrea and I were the only lowlanders.  Three were unknowns, but all were strong (after some quick Google searches).  I opted to use a Camelbak for the first lap even though I hated the extra weight on my back when I was standing and grinding.  The air was dry and I needed to be sure I drank adequately.

The gun went off and before we set off on the 2 mile bike path stretch over to the Coldsprings climb, we had to do this silly little parade loop around the base of the ski slope.  After a brief section of flat single track, the course immediately went straight up the mountain on a snow cat track.  I was dead last as my legs barked immediately from the get go.  I so wanted to get off and walk up that bit, but everyone else was grinding up.  And so I did as well.  Eventually we all had to get off and walk a steep section up to the River Run single track.  From there it was a series of switchbacks back down to the lodge and then we were off on to the bike path.

Spin spin spin ... coast coast coast ... and repeat.  I was able to reel in 1 lady and pass her.  Now I was in 5th.  And then the 9 mile climb began!  The first 4 miles was gravel road and double track.  The high cadence low torque bike path section allowed my legs to wake up without blowing up.  Whe I hit the climb, the legs were there!  I marked 4th place and slowly began to reel her in.  There are two short kickers in the first 4 miles.  I caught up to 4th on the first one.  It seemed that she was running a bigger gear than I as she struggled up the climb and eventually dismounted.  Wanting to save my legs, I wisely got off and pushed as well.  I passed her before the second kicker.  Now I was in 4th.

Cold Springs gravel climb

I saw Andrea next.  She was not too far ahead and I caught up to her as we entered the single track.  She too, was pushing a bigger gear.  I was content to follow as my heart rate was about 7 beats higher than where I wanted it to be.  I needed to settle.  We soon got caught up in traffic.  Andrea called out very politely, "single speeders needing on by" so many times that she should have had a recording.  I knew that talking expended energy so I was happy that she was in front (I ain't no FOOL).  With about 2 miles left on the Cold Springs Trail, I saw a bit of weakness and decided it was time to go.  Now I was in 3rd.

I passed quite a number of racers on this climb.  For the most part, everyone was polite and would yield some trail so that I could motor on through.  The group that I had the most difficulty with were the 50+ men. There were a couple that just did not want to be passed, especially by a woman.  Did they not know they were racing for 2nd to last place?  I finally managed to skirt around them, but it took every ounce of energy and focus to not rub handle bars or fall off the mountain.   I suppose getting passed by a woman on a single speed can be kind of an ego killer.

Difficult to pass on the Cold Springs Trail

Finally after a little over an hour of continual climbing I was at the top.  Now came the beginning of the 13 mile descent (with a couple of hiccups in).  When I had pre ridden a few days before, the descent was, for the most part, smooth and flowy.  There were a few rocky areas where you had to be light on the bike for fear of slashing a side wall, but otherwise very fast!  Today was a different story ... it was a wash board!  Apparently people were a little heavy handed on the brakes and the trail turned into a wash board.  The racers on this side of the mountain were very polite and I was able to get around without losing much time.

The two hiccups I mentioned were 5-7 minute climbs, one on single track and one on double track.  I saw Zeke at the 2nd aid station on the 2nd hiccup climb.  He told me that Rebecca was 10+ minutes ahead and 2nd place was about 5 minutes ahead.  At this point I did not think much about that other than riding my own race.

Hershey Highway was a ballsy doubletrack loose gravely descent down to the River Run single track.  It was all about leaning the bike far enough to carve the turns but not too far and eating it in the loose rock.  Max speed for me on this section was a screaming 35 mph.

The River Run Single track was a series of 15-20 switchbacks back down to the lodge.  Sharp rock reared their ugly heads, especially in the corners.  This is where Rebecca flatted last year during XC Natz and lost the race.  This thought I kept in the back of my head as I negotiated this descent.  The switch backs were tight and loose.  Basically you stuck your front wheel in the rut, squeezed your rear brake, and slid your rear wheel around.  After 10 times I was ready to be down to the bottom.

Just before you hit the bottom, there are two options to take.  The "A" line is a 30 yard rocky face at 30-40% grade.  If you screw this up, you will get hurt.  If you clean it, you will be 30 seconds faster.  The "B" line is one more switchback descent.

"A" line --note Zeke at the top

During the pre ride, my head was not in it and I did not do the "A" line.  Today, my focus was razor sharp, I turned my brain off, and let my body take control.  Cleaned the "A" line and gave myself a mental boost for the second lap.

When I entered the feed zone, my cooler was not where I left it.  Volunteers came from every direction!  One held my bike, the others found my blue and white cooler in a sea of blue and white coolers.  One lady even popped the top on my Red Bull.  She excitedly cried out,  " I've been wanting to do something all day!"  Those people amazingly got me out of there in record time.  I ditched my CamelBak and went with a water bottle as I knew at the first aid station at the top of the climb there would be a water bottle feed.

Cold Springs Trail

The climb up Cold Springs the second time was brutal.  There was less traffic and those who were in front of me seemed happy to stop and let me by.  I had to will the legs to turn the pedals over on the steeper sections.  Fortunately, I think the patience pill I took before the race saved enough energy in my legs on the first lap to allow me to grind up the mountain the second time.  (When I looked at the results I was only 2 minutes slower the second time up.)

Warm Springs descent

After the first hiccup climb, I began to descend down to the Warm Springs Traverse Trail.  I heard the dreaded "pssssssss."  Oh, no!  I cannot be getting a flat!  I kept descending hoping the Stan's would work.  After about 45 seconds the hissing stopped.  I stopped to see how my rear tire felt.  Funny,  it was still firm.  If I did not puncture, what was that noise?  I continued to descend.  Two minutes later, I heard this buzzing noise and then, "Bam!"  I got stung near my left shoulder.  There was a dang bee in my jersey.  That was what had been making that noise.  I got stung 2 more times before I could stop, unzip, and get that bastard out.  There were people coming up on me, so I did not have time to zip my jersey back up.

When I began the second hiccup climb, I passed a racer who told me that second place was just up the road.  Holy crap!  I thanked him for the info and embraced the pain cave!  I motored like there was no tomorrow, clawing my way up that climb, looking around every corner to try to catch a glimpse.  Right before I reached the top, I saw her!

With about 4-5 miles to go, all of it descending, did I have the skills to catch her?  I did not know, but I was going to find out in the next 15 minutes.  I screamed down Hershey highway.  Every time I caught a glimpse of her, she was growing.  I was closing!   When she reached the River Run single track, I was about 30 seconds behind her.  2 1/2 miles to go!  With each switchback turn, I was reeling her in.  But how would I pass her on this tight single track without taking us both out?  It looked like it was going to come down to the rock wall.  Would she take the "A" line?  If she did, game over.  But as she approached, she turned right onto the "B" line!

I turned left, flew down the rock wall like it was child's play and rolled through the finish, 30 seconds ahead of her.  I just took second in the Marathon Nationals Single Speed division!  I was so stoked!

I felt a little embarassed coming through the finish with an unzipped jersey, but stopping to zip it up would have cost me 2nd place.

I came into this race expecting no more than a good time and a safe finish.  What a way to finish off an epic week of riding in the Sawtooth mountains of Idaho!


I want to thank The Outdoor Store for a perfectly working machine, Endless Bikes for that wonderfully big 22 cog, Pro Gold for a happy drive train, and Chamois Butt'r for a happy toosh.  And a big shout out to my Coach, Lynda Wallenfels, for prepping the engine!