Mountain bike race season, done and done! Whew. Making it to the start of the Laramie Range Epic was a bit tough this year. In 2020 I wanted to win the race, but you know… COVID, so I had to do a solo TT for the virtual rendition where I crashed hard on Twin Mountain Trail and yet still PR’d by 7 minutes or so and it actually all really bothered me because I was like, dammit I’m in the best shape ever and there’s no racing.
So enter 2021… after the national championships, which I still haven’t written a race report for which is odd because I did podium, I really just felt the mental fatigue of a full race season… those old thoughts from previous seasons of this just isn’t fun anymore. In 2020 I got to adventure a lot and do a lot of rides that otherwise I wouldn’t do, and I was feeling that crunch this year with no adventuring and camping and hiking and all that because I was racing or otherwise trying to catch up chores and housework and what not when I wasn’t. And then the worse thing in 21 months happened… I got a respiratory infection. I really enjoyed not being sick with anything for so long, and bam! I decided to just not ride as I was so scared of developing bad bronchitis like I usually do thanks to my crappy lungs. All going into one of the races I care the most about….
The Laramie Enduro/Range Epic is just one race I love the crap out of, but haven’t been able to pull the results I wanted to. So with one short trainer spin at 110 watts and one 55 minute chill MTB ride at Gowdy under my belt for the last few weeks, I lined up for this year’s LRE with no expectation except to have a fun day on the bike, enjoying conditions I love (though I could’ve used some more rain), and my favorite trails.
Celeste and I ended up on the front row of the Wave 2 line up, which I didn’t mind as I’m all about counting ponytails in a race, and it would give me a good idea of where I was in the results, knowing only Isa was in Wave 1 and no way would I ever beat her time. (Wait, I thought I was just coming to have fun?) The start went well, and I kept it reigned in, knowing I simply need a lot longer to warm up than I did years ago and there was no need to sprint when I had 32 miles of racing ahead of me.
By the time Twin Mountain rolled around, I was realizing I was racing the race, and it was go time. Being a local has its advantages on these technical trails, and I tried to use that as an advantage. I’d go back and forth with another girl, Caitlin, as I wasn’t sure what race she was in (and occasionally seeing Celeste in the distance, though once the climbing started she was gone). Glancing at my Garmin, I knew I was going much faster through this section of the race than I ever had previously. Oh, and I managed to not get stung by a wasp by everyone else – winning!
The only thing I really struggled with was the hike-a-bike climb on Skeleton Trail, but that’s because I really can’t push a mountain bike uphill very well (I tried to will myself into running, telling myself #crossiscoming, but it is not the same). I even cleaned the nasty 700BB climb without a bobble, which is impressive as the deep ruts made it like climbing slowly at 5mph on a skinny, and I can’t ride skinny things well mentally. Oh, and a bonus, I rode the rotting bridge on that trail that my friend put his foot through when we rode it in June. Whoa, Heidi, riding all the new stuff today! I did realize that I was silly when I played around with my fork settings the day before, and I had my Brain set way too firm, which was definitely a bit harsh on the hands and arms, but luckily my changing of my rebound settings for the first time ever wasn’t making things sketchy – yep, I’m a newbie sometime!
Spitting out on the gravel road that connects the Twin Mountain section to the Happy Jack section (I think of this race as two parts with a snack break in the middle, though no lie, the road section is tough as it mildly climbs), I took to trying to keep the power on the pedals and take in some food and water. Caitlin re-caught me and I realized she was in the full, two-lap race which made me slightly relieved. It was great to chat with her before she left me in her dust when we hit Crow Creek Trail.
My hard efforts definitely started making me a bit wonky, and I made some silly technical mistakes on Crow Creek (in front of the photographer, of course), which reminded me to get my head back into the game. Hell, I’ve been racing 6-8 hours all summer, I shouldn’t be tired 90 minutes into a mountain bike race, right? My climbing game is way off, and climbing out of Crow Creek I was caught by Nikki, but I tried to keep her in sight. Which side note, if I could combine 2016 Heidi Climbing Form and 2021 Heidi Descending Form, I’d be a beast, LOL! Apparently I can have one or the other… which, I must admit, I much more prefer ripping the descents!
Hitting Headquarters I sighed some relief as I’d have a big chunk of descending coming up and I can ride Headquarters, UW Loop, and Meadow at speed with my eyes closed. I caught back up to Nikki and passed her on Headquarters. I hauled down UW Loop, setting my second fastest time ever, and followed up by only being six seconds off my PR on Meadow. Consider how many times I’ve raced LMBS on those trails in XCO format, I was super pleased by all of that, miles and miles into an endurance race. I knew my strength laid with descending, so I hammered the descent down Aspen to a PR before the climb up Middle Aspen. A guy I went back and forth with nearly all day complimented me with a “I just can’t get away from you on that full suspension” which I giggled and thought, “you sure it’s the bike?” in a teasing way (I don’t think he realizes lower Aspen I have memorized from riding it all the time, summer and winter, and I love chunk and roots).
On Middle Aspen I was nearly caught again at the top of the climb, and once again the descent came at a perfect time down Blackjack to Pole Creek to LiMBS. Pedal pedal pedal, go go go! The double track down the old road was another good snacking point, as by now I was starting to feel hungry which panicked me slightly. But I knew I just had the Last Big Climb left (which is even longer thanks to the Haunted Forest re-route).
I hadn’t done the new Haunted Forest from bottom to top, but I knew it would be a doozy of a climb. By now everyone knows the OG Haunted Forest was my favorite trail, and I’ll take the chance to bitch about the re-route to anybody that will listen, and naturally, I bitched to myself about having to climb even longer (truthfully, only two minutes longer, but that’s two minutes extra of climbing). OG Haunted Forest was slick, rooty, steep, and technical, and I could climb it well… New Haunted Forest is smooth, dry, and nicely switchbacked every so many feet, making it a fitness climb. Come on, Heidi, pedal! I knew I just had to hold off the other gals until Death Crotch, and then I’d be good. I could hear their voices echoing in the trees, I knew I didn’t have a big gap.
Thankfully I hit the top of Haunted Forest without being caught. Now it was just some smooth, mild climbs until Death Crotch. There’s a rock feature on Death Crotch I’ve never been able to ride, and today was the day I cleaned it… then nearly crashed because I was so happy I cleaned it I flubbed the next two rocks that I’ve always ridden. Ha! But woohoo, I finally conquered that pinch point with the barbed wire fence of death! I walked the steep climb to the summit (#crossiscoming, it’s training, I swear), and then hit the descent, reminding myself to keep it upright and safe.
So safe it was my third fastest time down Death Crotch ever… usually I can barely descend it during LRE as I’m so tired. One on of the switchbacks I let out a little smile with a “woohoo, you’re going to podium!” and then quickly reminded myself the race wasn’t done yet. Just Hooch Trail remained, which I PR’d. At the end of the race my hardtail buddy and a junior racer caught me, but I let the boys duke it out.
3 hours, 24 minutes. ~10 minute PR on a course that is now 1.5 miles longer due to trailwork.
3rd overall, 1st in 30-39
BAM, the Eleanor of Mountain Bike Race Wins complete!
(Gone in 60 Seconds reference. I’ve had an Eleanor of Cyclocross, which I achieved last fall at Valmont, and LRE is my Eleanor of Mountain Bike.)
Holy crap. I did it! Maybe my forced time off the bike was actually good for me?!
What a day, I’m proud of this one! Once again proving sometimes no expectations work out the best. Nationals was a sh!tshow mentally for me with too much hype and expectations, so it was nice to come in mentally straighter and without pressure on myself. It wasn’t a perfect race and there was a lack of fitness and nutrition strategy, but luckily those didn’t dominate the day.
That’s a wrap on my 2021 mountain bike race season! Very short and sweet, but definitely sweet… 2nd at Fangdango, a 2nd and 1st at the Gem City MTB Series, 4th place in cat 1 at the national championships, and my elusive age group win (and an overall podium) at the Laramie Range Epic! Now just a handful of “off season” gravel races left before the best season of all is here, cyclocross!