Oh Gowdy Grinder… probably my favorite race and the one that always surprises me the most. This year was weird… last year I had shown up with no expectations aside from being really slow, and won. That surprised me so much I did some Jersey-esque fist pump across the finish line even. But this year, I suppose there were expectations. I upgraded to advanced this year, as anyone should do after they win. I wanted to do well, but when I looked at last year’s times and compared to my pre-rides, I’d just feel sick and have to fight the urge to downgrade. Yeah yeah yeah, “better to finish last in advanced/expert/cat 1 then win intermediate/sport/cat 2″… that’s great, but podiums feel good, you know? (And hence why there’s sandbagging!)
Higher category means the “honor” of racing later in the day, which just made me get more and more nervous. Thanks, but I prefer my crappy 8am start times because I literally am not awake before I realize WTF I’m about to get myself into! Waiting until 11:30am gave me time to get nervous and queasy. My parents decided to come and finally watch me race for the first time ever (yay!), which was nice but added a whole another level of stress as I was having to explain to my mom why there were half naked men strapping on heart rate monitors and why the Honey Stinger kits look like honeycomb, along with my normal pre-race routine.
Sadly, a late May snowstorm caused the Grinder to be postponed to the date of the Beti Bike Bash, so the women’s fields were really suffering this year (especially Open). I think nearly all the women’s fields were half of that last year. I get that it was a big conflict, and unavoidable. To me it was a no brainer after 10 minutes of thought of which race I would attend, but I know it wasn’t like that for most of the other women who race in this area. There will still a lot of unfamiliar faces to me, but it was exciting to see the Wyoming gals in full force and with very good chances in most of the categories!!
There were 9 ladies this year in Advanced Women, most familiar faces to me from other races. So we all fit on the front row! I had a crappy start, I couldn’t get my left foot to clip in for the life of me, though I was out front. I think this was a blessing because it stopped me from my usual habit of sprinting like a bat out of a hell at the start and therefore blowing up. The start starts with a rather steep (ha, Koppenberg, you ain’t crap…) double track climb. I just did my wanna be climber thing, and well, climbed. And climbed. And climbed some more… by myself. I had that eery feeling come over me and waited for the pack to whiz past, or even just one or two ladies. I looked back, wondering if everyone was just drafting off of me (it was quite the headwind after all), and I was alone. Hmmm, OK, I can go with this!
I hit the single track and luckily the one Open man I caught pulled off quickly to let me through, which I thanked him profusely for (wait, I caught an Open man?). No angry yelling and cyclocross maneuvers needed this year to get around guys who couldn’t ride the techy parts on the ascent to the top! I felt strong and though my thighs were burning I knew I was going the faster I have ever gone on this section of trail. At the top before some of the descending started another guy pulled off for me. That’s when the issue happened. There’s a narrow rocky passage that is techy, butttttt for someone racing OPEN, key word OPEN, men, it shouldn’t be an issue. Well, another guy in front of me couldn’t make it through it and didn’t pull off so I couldn’t blast through it which meant I got awkwardly stuck. A spectator started yelling at the guy, and that’s when Mel, who was in 2nd, caught me and got through. She gave the guy and ear full and I hastily said “you know if you moved we both could’ve made it through?!” and the spectator continued yelling at the guy for holding up the leaders of the women’s class. Ugh, race drama.
So I was now in 2nd, which was alright because I could see Mel’s technical and descending skills were better than mine. I knew from Strava she’d kick my ass, so I wasn’t too upset about it. She would’ve got me regardless of the careless Open guy or not. I was still feeling strong, and nailed a tricky portion of Ignoramus on the way to 2%. Then the fun hiking started, and I decided to just run the rock garden (and was smart and carried my bike this year so it wouldn’t get stuck on something!). I was keeping Mel in sight, though as I came off Rock N Roller someone told me she had 30 seconds. I flew down the Stone Temple descent, and came through to start my “long” (and final) lap. Jim was there to hand me a bottle but I didn’t take it as I hadn’t drank anything on the first lap. I drank a bit (which always makes me feel like a rock star! “Hey, look at me, I’m all drinking from my bottle like a pro!” haha) and headed up the double track climb. Which felt like hell this time… I had almost caught Mel again, but she got her legs back before I did and zipped off down Pinball.
Pinball and I have an awkward trail-rider relationship. It’s not really harder than most stuff found on Stone Temple, but I just can’t find a good rhythm down it. I had a pre-rider riding my butt behind me which also through off my concentration. Still had a PR down it, and I flew over the scary cattle guard which is always a good thing! I was dumb and decided to remount from the hike-a-bike-down-a-cliff-onto-a-bridge portion on the bridge, which was a mistake because I always bobble coming off the bridge so I had to run up the trail a bit and remount from there. Crow Creek went well, and I rode half the rock garden before my whacko brain kicked in so I ran it past all the rocks. I managed to ride up and over the second bridge, woo woo! By this time I could no longer see Mel, and the only person behind me was Open racer #2 that had kindly let me pass at the top of Stone Temple – he’d end up being my riding buddy for the rest of my race 🙂
Down the dirt road section where I grabbed some water before the grind that is Mo Rocka came. Oh Mo Rocka… the only trail I’ve endo-ed on while walking my bike. By this time my heart rate was redlined and I was pooped and could feel myself getting messy. Unfortunately the kind folks who put on the Grinder feel the need to torture us racers and taped off the easier ways on some of the rock features, which lead to two dismounts and walks I wasn’t planning on. The first part of Mo Rocka is the last time I saw Mel. I felt OK on the trail, knew I was going faster than I have ever gone, but could feel the clumsiness getting worse. At one point I offered Open #2 to go around me and he politely declined, stating, “You’re in 2nd, I’m last, you stay in front!” It was super kind, because I knew he was a faster technical rider than me and I was seriously holding him up at times!
Starting up Albert’s Alley I realized I was in a way harder gear than I use to using, so that was good motivation. My left butt cheek had started to really cramp up and I was physically hurting, so I tried various Jason Aldean songs to keep me going (Hey now, Emily Batty sings while racing, too, maybe not country, but she’s sings! It works!). I think at one point I came up with the lyrics “I’m just a biker chick with a farmer’s tan” which I started laughing about. The steep rock face climb I just didn’t have the power for, and actually half fell, half stepped off my bike so I walked up that hill. Whew, I knew I was getting tired when I was walking hills… finally there was the descent and I knew a chance to kinda recover before the climb up Stone Temple again.
At the end of Albert’s Alley my parents and Jim were waiting, which was super awesome! Their cheers put a smile on my face and gave me some mental motivation for the final push towards the finish. I knew I just had to survive and keep my whits about me. At the top of 2% I saw another girl and had a big “oh sh!t!!!!” moment and took off as fast as I could. I knew I had lost a lot of steam and was hurting and just wasn’t going as hard as I could on Stone Temple with the risk of not knowing who was behind me, and it was catching up to me. Rock N Roller went fine, and as I turned onto Ignoramus again to descend to Stone Temple I… well, I don’t know what I did. Suddenly I was flying face first into rocks, cactus, and a very scratchy bush of some sort. My chest smashed into a rock, and I felt the ground and bush scratching the hell out of my arms, and my left hand was in cactus. My back popped, too. By then I was in pure panic mode and as Open #2 rushed over to me I just shouted “I can’t, there’s a girl!!!!” and I grabbed my bottle and jumped on my bike, not even sure it was ok. Alyssa was there, right behind me… bottom of Ignoramus she scooted around the right and flew away. I knew chasing her down the descent was risky, and since I had already fallen back to 3rd I knew it wasn’t worth losing my podium spot just to chase her down. I was shaken, sore, and my helmet and glasses were on crooked. I almost lost it again where Suzie had her nasty wreck on Friday that garnered us a field trip the ER, so I had to mentally regroup myself and just survive. Survive.
I came around to the finish and could hear my dad yelling. I stood up and sprinted, though I ended up sitting back down because I felt silly sprinting against nobody. I think I smiled when I crossed the line, but all I really wanted to do was stop and rub my boobs, which were hurting from my crash. Hahaha, I know… so awkward! Alyssa said she felt bad for passing me and I shrugged, haha. It’s mountain bike racing, crap happens! You crash, you run into issues with other racers, you have a bad day. You’re just racing for some cheap prizes, it’s not your livelihood in nearly all the cases, so why care? I had just finished my first advanced (“cat 1” level, so I tell myself) race, on an extremely hard course between the technicalness and elevation, and I had a podium placement! Life was good!
1:35:07 was my final time! I did the “yellow” medium lap 4 minutes 20 seconds faster than last year, so that made me happy, and I PR’d on damn near every segment. Though I got messy towards the end, I think I rode technically well, though there’s room for improvement. I’m glad I had the chance to do a technically challenging hard race before Nationals where I’ll be dealing with twice as many rocks. And hey, it’s the Grinder – it’s my “home” race, the only time where I feel the home course advantage! Wyoming gals swept the advanced women podium, too!
This has me primed and excited for the Laramie MTB Series, which starts in a few weeks. It feels like I haven’t raced much this year, but I’m liking the feeling. This time last year I had peaked, so I am hoping I just continue my momentum in a forward fashion this year
towards Nationals! Now to recover for a day, race short track on Tuesday night, and journey to CO Springs for a USAC race on Wednesday night for all important “points” towards my Cat 1 upgrade!