Just the tales of a girl and her bikes and the adventures that follow!
Author: The Adventuring Heidi
Hi world, I’m Heidi! Adventurer, road trip fanatic, photography geek, waterfall chaser, geyser gazer, Iceland obsessed, Wyoming native, outdoor lover. I travel a lot personally and for work, and love capturing the awesome and awkward moments along the way.
Well, it’s something I haven’t done since July 2019.
Alas, here I was, a ball of nerves fretting about racing Fangdango. With MTB Nationals in Winter Park again, I knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t qualify to race them, regardless of my feelings of them flouting current CDC testing guidelines for those fully vaccinated (that’s a whole ‘other rabbit hole that probably only annoys me because I work in public health and am all too familiar with best practices and recommendations… see, there’s that rabbit hole!). XCO races, let alone USAC sanctioned ones, have become incredible rare in Colorado, so Fangdango was my only feasible option.
I raced Fangdango in 2019 and had a horrid race where I came in last in Cat 1/Pro by… a long gap. I had cat 2 & 3’s catch me type of gap – it was bad. I find it to be pure a fitness course, and to this day I hide lack of fitness with skills when it comes to mountain biking (and cyclocross). So I was really nervous coming into the 2021 edition. I had only gotten back on my mountain bike for the first time since November the previous weekend, and I felt slightly rusty and I could tell my lack of strength training this year when it came to technical uphill climbing. So, for the first time probably since an LMBS race, I was a ball of nerves the day before and leading up to the race. I’ve been so caught up trying to get the endurance for long gravel events that I forgot what XCO felt like, except for just knowing it was going to be painful AF.
2021 is bringing out the big race fields, and Fangdango was no exception, with 16 women starting in the Cat 1/Pro/SS wave (with another 16 cat 2’s behind us, and then the cat 3’s). This was my biggest MTB race start group ever for my category (I mean, obviously I’ve been in mass starts with like 400, but not what I mean), and naturally I apparently forgot how to start a MTB race and flubbed my clip in at the start and was kinda like “oh, we’re going now, okay, eek, pedal!”
Nevertheless, I was able to work myself up into the lead group through the start loop and out for the first of three laps. I was a bit shocked to find myself there – I was REALLY good at underestimating myself for this race, apparently. I soon enough found myself making some passes and holding position. I remember just kinda thinking “huh, cool” and going with it. It freaking hurt, my lungs burned and the familiar taste of blood in my lungs returned, but I also was enjoying racing my mountain bike super hard like I did in “the before times.” I did pretty well until halfway through the second lap when it was like my body went into some sort of weird limp mode. It felt like I couldn’t get my heart rate up and my breathing was really calm. I didn’t exactly see this reflected in my heart rate data when I reviewed it post race, but I know it was real. Maybe it was mental, I don’t know. I honestly might think it was the adrenaline wearing off to be truthful.
Starting my third lap I knew I had two gals chasing me from behind and I just tried to keep on the pedals to stay ahead of them. Sadly in the final minutes of the race on what is really the last big descent, my rustiness in XCO racing came out in full force and I flubbed a downhill into kicker feature, and ended up at a dead stop in my hardest gear, unable to pedal with my calf cramping. If I was thinking, I shouldn’t just dropped it to the baby ring (long live the front derailleur!) but I panicked as one gal caught and passed me and I didn’t think clearly. Next up was the slog into a 26mph headwind up a sandy climb, and the second chaser passed me. By then I was just toast and pedaled it out to the finish and let them ride off into the sunset.
Whew, done and dusted in 1 hour 26 minutes flat. I knew I finished in the top half, which was a relief to me. Finally I tracked down some results, and saw that they actually did break everyone into age groups, and alas, I was leading the 30-39 until that windy sandy climb of doom when Megan got around me. Rats! But nonetheless, I was excited to finish 2nd, with a solid gap to 3rd and 4th. Overall, I finished 6 out of 12 cat 1’s, and was ahead of one of the pros as well. Much much much different than 2019’s saga!
Soooo… I think I’m going to race nationals now 🙂 Which will be my next XCO race… Eep!
Also, damn I miss XCO racing. It’s what got me into competitive cycling, and dammit, I MISS IT. Sadly, with the Laramie MTB Series dead (dramatically cries), there’s just not a lot it to do in my area (hence the whole nationals being the next opportunity for short distance racing). But in general I miss mountain bike racing, including the marathon/endurance distances so maybe in 2022 I’ll swing back that way. I filled 2021 with so much long gravel nonsense it is hard to squeeze anything else in. Woes of being a cyclist that dabbles in all the things, eh?
Much love to my team, Square1 Racing! My teammates Sarah and Mary also raced, with Mary getting 2nd in cat 3! Maxxis Tires kept me rubber side down (yes, even that mostly worn out rear Aspen did perfect on the course… and, I’ll change it out soon, I swear… maybe like end of June, LOL). Tailwind kept me fueled (at least with the two sips I managed to take). And it was super fun hearing cheers along the course from the “Laramie Fast Kid Club” as I’m dubbing them (Isa and Tristian and company!)!!!!
I am continuing with my team Square1 Cycling. I am also continuing to work with Tailwind Nutrition, returning to the Trailblazer team in 2021 and continuing our partnership into its sixth year! Also back is Maxxis Tires, who also supported me in 2019 for mountain biking.
So racing? Eek, I hope it can all happen! Promoters were able to show their ability to safely host some events in 2020, so I’m building off that momentum. On tap for me are mostly a LOT of 100 mile gravel events, a few shorter gravel events, a few XCO mountain bike events (still unsure if I’ll race nationals in Winter Park), and of course a full cyclocross season.
I know, who thought this “90 minute, max effort” racer would be tackling 100 mile gravel races. But here I am. We’ll see how crazy the plan ends up being.
I am currently registered for CO2UT (a postponement since 2020), Robidoux Quick & Dirty, FoCo Fondo, and the 307 Gravel Series. For full plans, you can see my 2021 plans under the Results & Rides tab.
On the bright side, I’ve been putting in the work and am currently enjoying my first recovery/regeneration week of the training plan!
After the Dead Swede’s award ceremony I began the four hour drive home to Cheyenne. Ideally I would’ve spent the night, but I had a cross race the next day that I was determined not to miss. I got home, swapped out some things in my gear bag, and drove the two hours to CycloX Parker the next morning. I didn’t have high hopes as my legs were trashed both from racing the Dead Swede and all the long hours in the car. I started slow, letting my legs come around, and finally made the pass to put me into the lead. Victory #2!
Next up was CycloX Interlocken, which is one of my favorite venues. It is HARD, probably one of the hardest courses out there we have for singlespeed. I’ve had a few close calls to winning, but I’ve never managed to pull it off. Aside from one bobble trying to ride something on the first lap, I rode smoothly to my third win of the season. The beat went on…
My friend Julie and I signed up for Schoolyard Cross, and I figured I’d try my hand in the open field since I received my cat 2 upgrade!! (Yes, who knew I was earning upgrade points this whole time?!) I got my geared bike ready, and wouldn’t you know, Cheyenne received a record snowfall of 14 inches. At 5am Julie and I made the call that our lives were not worth risking during the drive down to Castle Rock, and I went back to bed. Turns out conditoins were cold and miserable at the race, and it was way too sketchy of a storm to be driving in anyway. Shoot. I mostly sad for Julie, as it would’ve been her first cyclcoross race and I haven’t been able to share the love of cross with too many newbies before so I was super excited for her.
Halloween marked the next race, and a new venue at CycloX Broomfield. By now the COVID situation was heating up a bit more and I had a gut feeling it might be the last race. This race was practically a women’s UCI event, and the open field filled so Sunny Gilbert jumped into singlespeed. Everyone made a point of telling me “you won’t win this one” which I couldn’t tell how to take. Eitehr way, I did NOT start smart, chasing Sunny and plastering myself to her rear wheel for about half a lap until my body (mostly lungs) reminded me I’m not an elite pro in cross. I’d end up third on the day, not shabby considering the strong field. Even better, Katie Compton never lapped me. And that, is a victory!
Lance and the Without Limits team came through with one last race before Colorado shut down again, securing the venue in Parker in mid-November for CycloX Parker 2.0. Another strong field lined up again, and so did a snow squall minutes before our race start. Crazy strong winds (you know it’s windy when the Wyoming person says it’s windy) and snow pelted us as we took off. Tracy and I swapped positions a few times before she bobbled on a corner and I made my pass stick. Tracy is crazy strong, and being chased by her is HARD. I took to riding the technical course smoothly and not freaking out too much that the moistened baby-powder-dirt was clogging my pedals (everyone was having this problem). Final race of 2020, and another win!
I suppose I really can’t complain of a race season that consisted of:
1 win, 1 2nd in mountain bike
2 wins in 2 gravel races
4 wins, 1 3rd in cross and the CycloX Series win overall in singlespeed
My cross season felt like a dream. I was really worried going into the season that I didn’t properly prepare as I was trying to have long endurance type of fitness for the two overlapping gravel events. I really didn’t do much high intensity intervals and I never did any running work this year. But I think what I did paid off. I can do 30 second, 1 minute intervals all day long, but my endurance always lacked. My gravel racing prep gave me crazy consistency over the course of my cross races – some races my lap times only varied by a handful of seconds!! Considering years ago when my later laps would be minutes slower than my first, this is a huge step in the right direction! I also hiked a lot this summer, including one week at the end of August where I put in about 50 miles of walking and hiking. I noticed the improvement with my hill run ups and barrier work, my body didn’t have that same “OMG WHAT ARE WE DOING OFF THE BIKE?!” panic. So… the lack of cross specific structured training didn’t hurt me. And of course, every year I see the improvement in my handling and technical abilities even though I’ve always felt to be a good technical rider (I saw this on the mountain bike, too).
2020 was good to me on the bicycle. Sure, racing was reduced, but I managed to keep focused. I went from thinking 60 miles rides were scary to doing several 65+ mile rides on gravel every month. I rebuilt all my fitness, and then kept going. I surpassed my annual mileage record and still have a little less than a month to go. I learned that I can do things that I thought weren’t in my wheelhouse, like longer gravel events. I finally realized doing something other than the bike can help big time, like hiking.
So 2021… well, it’s the race season that’s more up in the air than 2020 was. It’s hard to register for events knowing that the situation is still ever changing. I did begin my training plan, using FasCat (who I’ve used in the past for cross), and tested (crappily) to my highest “beginning the training season” FTP ever. CO2UT, a gravel race in Fruita, was moved from the fall to April, and I’m entered in the 100 mile race. Pretty scary stuff – as it’s the inaugural race so there’s no previous finish times to look at to help with planning… is it a 6 hour 100, or a 12 hour 100? Eeek! I also registered for the 100 mile course for Robidoux Quick & Dirty in June. Tentatively planned are – if they happen – CSU road race, Louisville Crit, Boulder Roubaix, 307 Gravel Series (aside from the one that is the day before Robidoux, ugh), Laramie MTB Series, Laramie Range Epic, Dead Swede, maybe USAC MTB Nationals, and of course a full cross season. We shall see…
2020 has been a struggle when it comes to racing. Races either cancelled, or moved their date. The Dead Swede was one of these – from an original June date to beginning of October. Like in 2019, I targeted this race as one of my “A” races when planning my season, along with Bear Bait 8 and the Laramie Range Epic. Bear Bait 8 happened but I was the only one in my field, the Epic went virtual, so that left me with lots of fire for The Dead Swede.
Last year I raced the 40 mile course and loved it, but bumped up to the brand new 60 mile option for this year. When I registered I had barely begun to get 60 mile rides under my belt, so I was nervous about how it would go, but thankfully after a spring and summer of lots of 60-70 mile rides, I felt confident with racing the distance, especially after Robidoux Quick N Dirty.
It was a chilly 40 or so degrees on race morning, as we all stood around debating clothing choices. I glanced at other women I saw, trying to size up my competition. I really had no idea what to expect, much like at Robidoux. The Dead Swede did see a big drop off in participants when they moved the date, but there were still about 90 starting the 60 mile race (the 40 mile race had the most participants this year, but still about half of what came out for 2019’s race). Not horribly shabby, considering how 2020 panned out.
8:05am and off we went! A couple rows of recreational riders were at the front, so I quickly made my way through them during the neutral start to get to the front of the pack. My strategy is mostly “get to the front, then you know if you’re passed.” A small peloton formed, but it wasn’t nearly as organized and fast as the previous year’s. Apparently I made an enemy with a 15 year old when he rapidly swerved into my line and I scolded him, so he went on to call me out on Strava, ha! But yeah, I didn’t like the group, lots of weird riding happening. Needless to say, it was a relief when we all turned onto the gravel and could spread out a bunch.
Then, it happened. A ponytail and neon pink jacket passed me and she looked mighty strong on the climbs. I was going to have to work for this one, it seemed, but I was nearly immediately discouraged by how strong she appeared on climbs. Eric kinda laughed at me, and told me not to worry. Gotta love good gravel friends like that!
However, after a few miles it was apparent some of the tactics that were coming into play, and I didn’t like them (aka, sitting in my draft but not willing to return the favor), so I yelled over to Eric that I needed to put down the hammer. It was mile 12 or so… of a 60 mile race. So early with so much tough climbing left, but I had to make a gap. It was rolling downhill into the first aid station in Big Horn at mile 16, so to my advantage and I let my legs do their thing. I breathed a sigh of relief at the gap, but as I turned around on the out and back, it was obvious how small it was not only to 2nd place, but 3rd place. I told Eric once again, “I don’t think I’m winning this thing,” and he rolled his eyes at me.
Out of Big Horn I climbed in a small group with Eric and South Dakota Guy, all of us taking small turns into the wind. I lost my group when I took a few seconds of non-pedaling to yank my bibs back down over my knee warmers (the worse!) and take a gel, but kept the guys in view. The course then turned onto the fantastic Dry Weather Road, which lives up to its name with baby head rocks, ruts, and overall awesomeness. After this fun stretch was over, we joined the 40 mile course where it leaves the pavement, and I was back into familiar territory from last year.
With a headwind from the north-northwest, my times were decently slower than the previous year’s, but I kept pushing on, stealing glimpses behind me when I could (but I realized 2nd place had probably removed her neon pink jacket by now and would be blending in with all the other dark dots behind me). I went back and forth with South Dakota Guy, Eric, and Brian throughout the course, which was nice to have familiar faces. I rode into Dayton with Eric, but he needed water at the aid station so I kept going on, time trialing on the false flat to the second-to-last major climb of the day. A climb in which I was nearly creamed by a semi truck hauling sheep… ugh.
By now there was a nice tailwind, which was much appreciate. I flew past the final aid station, knowing I had about ten miles left, and most of it is downhill and very fast. I was pedaling like mad, when my Garmin gave me the “you’re off course!” beep. I panicked braked and looked around, as there was an intersection. Brian wasn’t far behind me, so I let him catch me and he said his Garmin did the same, but we were in the right direction. By now I was panicking, and knew I lost precious seasons. Pedal pedal pedal. Finally the last climb appeared, which was hellacious last year. Luckily with a tailwind this year, it went quicker and didn’t see all that bad because I knew what to expect, and I took my time smiling at the photographer, unaware I was being chased down with intent…
To the top, and I hit the pavement for the last few smooth miles before the finish. I hammered as much as I could, knowing I had to finish strong (and it’s good I did this!). Finally it was the final steep bike path descent, and the finish line, which I sprinted for with Brian!
YES I DID IT!!!!
1st Place overall women, 6th place overall out of everyone… 3 hours 37 minutes 1 second!
Brian and I were still trying to breathe normally and get out of racing mode when the 2nd place woman crossed the line, only one minute and nine seconds behind me. “Oh wow, that was really close!” I remarked to Brian. It felt really good to work for the win and to have to put a lot of effort into it. Sure, easy wins are nice (I had a 20 minute or so cushion at Robidoux), but there’s something sweeter when it is close and required a lot of work and panic and fear for several hours. Eric rolled in next and told me how much he wanted to call me on the final climb and let me know she was chasing me down. It was close!
The Dead Swede 60 mile is a fast race, so I had a comical amount of food and water on me, though I do like to lean towards being over prepared. I had 2 liters of water with 300 calories of lemon Tailwind mixed in, and terrible me, I still haven’t pulled the bladder out of my Chase Vest, and noted how much I drank. Starting one hour in, I took an SIS gel every 30 minutes, which was an amazing tactic I’ve never tried. This really kept me fueled and I was never hungry. SIS gels are also so easy to eat, I just rip them open and smoosh the entire gel into my mouth at once. Because they’re isotonic, I do not have to worry about drinking right after I take one, either. I also had two bottles of plain water on my bike, but I never touched those. I think with the cooler temps, I could’ve gotten by with just bottles on my bike without the camelback, and not needed aid stations, but it was still so nice just to have the water on my back and to not have to worry about stopping, which eats into precious seconds.
Second Dead Swede done and dusted, and still one of my favorite events! I did like the October date, as the temperatures stayed cool and the autumn colors made everything pretty. I will definitely be back in 2021, and now the debate is beginning on if I should give the 100 mile course a go….
One of my biggest flaws when it comes to competitive cycling is giving up before the race even starts. I’ll see a start list, and get all discouraged knowing a podium isn’t possible. Going into the first cyclocross race of 2020, I did just that.
To be fair, we didn’t know there would even be a 2020 season until a few weeks before as Without Limits confirmed a six race series. I was shocked to see that the race at Valmont would happen, but excited I could finally get some racing under way, even if there would be some long gravel races crammed in (including Robidoux Quick N Dirty the day after this race). I still didn’t train for cross specifically, as I figure making sure I had the fitness for 4-5 hour events was much more important.
With some panic training in the week leading up to CycloX Valmont (I’ve decided #panictraining is a legit training tactic now!), I kept checking the registration list. I kept seeing some fast names appearing in the single speed race, and I became more discouraged – to the point I almost considered racing in the cat 3 race instead. But I stuck to it.
Race day came, and it was interesting: no pre-riding, masks required until the 30 seconds to go, and no team tents/spectators/handups. Not what we expect from cyclocross, but sacrifices to be made in order to race. I warmed up a bit on the road, got stung by a wasp, and then took my place on the starting line.
My normal style is crazy sprinting at the start to take the hole shot, and then usually peter out in effort. This race was different, as I just paced Kristal and didn’t shoot out on the front. As we came off the starting climb, Kristi made a small mistake on an uphill corner and I found myself in front. OK, cool, I’ve been here before, everyone would end up passing me.
Except… they didn’t. I ran the 5280 stairs (thank you 60 miles of hiking in the last month) and settled into racing “blind” since I had no pre-ride – which is not uncommon for me to do in mountain bike racing, so it is something I am comfortable with, thinking on the fly and reading courses as I’m racing. The course was switched up a bit, which was awesome to keep it fresh after so many years of racing at Valmont. This venue has always been interesting for me, as it’s one of the venues I’ve never really had good race luck at podium-wise, but one I enjoy (minus the dang stairs). In 2017 I finally landed on my first podium, but it took a foot of snow to make that happen. In 2019, I had a crazy race and landed in 3rd, even after a big crash, which was one of my best races. But no way could I ever win here..
I focused on staying steady and staying out of my own head. I could check my gap to those behind me in certain parts on the course, and noticed some switch up in positions, but tried not to care too much. It was feeling surreal, leading a race at Valmont. Lap after lap I came through the start/finish still leading and I kept reminding myself to stay focused, remembering how I had a big crash on the final lap in this race in 2019. Aside from running into the tape on lap 3 or 4, things went pretty flawless for me.
Finally on the fifth and final lap I allowed myself to believe that it was really happening – I was going to win at Valmont in a well attended, legit field! I entered the finishing straight and fretted about posting up, but I gotta admit I’m still very nervous about taking both hands off the handlebars, so I did an enthusiast one arm fist pump.
I’ve always referred to winning at Valmont as my “Eleanor” podium, a reference to Gone in 60 Seconds. I still don’t know how it happened, with my lack of cross-specific training leading up to the race. However, once I viewed my lap times, I realized maybe there is something to the long endurance training, as the most they varied were 11 seconds, which is pretty crazy to me (when I first started racing cross, my final laps would be minutes slower than my first lap). I didn’t feel like I was struggling at the end (except maybe on that damn 5280 run up). And what an amazing lesson in getting out of my own head, and not letting start lists discourage me! To boot, I am finally learning how to race smart… winning the hole shot doesn’t always mean anything, and controlling my start helped keep my lungs and legs happy.
Here’s to a great start to the 2020 cyclocross season!
If you’re going to have a 2020 race season, why not cram gravel and cyclocross all together, amIright?
Originally the 2020 Robidoux Quick n Dirty was scheduled for June, but alas, like many events, they decided to move the date (vs. cancel, which was appreciated, until cyclocross was confirmed to be happening, which leads to “OMG I gotta race two opposite disciplines in the same weekend!”). I’ve known about this race for a few years now, but this was the year I’d make the 90 minute journey to Gering, NE to race it. Why I never knew Gering was so close, I’ll never know! I chose the 65 mile (aka 67 mile) distance for this year, as I slowly work up my ability to race longer distances and times.
After racing CycloX Valmont in Boulder on Saturday morning, I hightailed it back home for lunch, a shower, and a quick cuddle session with my kitty cat before heading to Nebraska. This was not ideal, and I was exhausted just thinking about another 90 minute drive after 3 hours total in the car going back and forth to Boulder. It’s not like the 2020 race season snuck up on me, but it still felt like that as I tried to remember what I all needed to bring.
I awoke Sunday morning to some pretty terrible wind that had awoken me several times during the night. If there’s one thing I don’t do, it’s pay money to race in wind in a state that isn’t Wyoming. The smell of smoke was in the air from the rapidly exploding fire near Laramie, and I scrunched up my face even more. I just didn’t wanna. But alas, I kitted up, packed up my tent, and headed out to McDonald’s for some breakfast.
As I’m sitting in my car enjoying my latte and trying to wake up, I realized my gravel bike looked really funny… dammit, my seat bag was missing! I totally forgot I had taken it off and put it on my commuter bike when I did a longer ride with it a few weeks earlier. I tried not to panic at the idea of racing 67 miles without a tube. I always have a pump in my camelbak which was helpful, and I had a CO2 (with no inflater head). I pulled my giant multi-tool out of my race bag and put it on my “whiskey barrel” bag on my bike. Well, at least I had some stuff? I am tubeless, but this is goathead country. Ugh. Not ideal. Totally not ready to race bikes this year!
After a quick rider’s meeting, we lined up for the started. Technically there was about a 50 minute window for each race distance to start, but it seemed like most wanted to roll out at 8am, especially for those wanting to ride in a pack to hide from the wind. The start was first, and I stuck with the lead group of men for about a mile or two before dropping off as I felt the day before’s cyclocross effort. This put me solo for about 25 minutes until a group of four caught me.
It was good to ride with Steve, First City Dudes, and “Omaha” for awhile, as we cruised with a slight tailwind. Shortly before Aid 1, First City Dudes both flatted, and the rest of our group splintered off as we hit the first sustained climb of the day. After a fast downhill, it was time to turn into the 20mph sustained headwind out of the west, which was painful. Nothing like pushing 10mph into the wind, on a downhill. These miles were probably the most demoralizing, but I guess the perk is everyone was going slow (except for one guy that flew past me on aero bars like there was no wind).
After the headwind stretch from hell, it was time to mash down the highway for a few miles, with a climb. More demoralizing slow speeds down the pavement, but I felt the climb wasn’t bad. Once I hit Aid 2 (I never did stop at an aid station), I got a second wind, and also lots of recovery thanks to some fast sections. Steve, Omaha, and my friend’s son, Bryce, caught back up to me and we formed another group for several miles, until they all dropped me once we turned into the headwind again.
More mashing and trying to stay motivated and well fed as I headed up Carter Canyon towards Robidoux Pass. I had heard about the “super steep climb,” but I was relieved to see it was actually quite short. Whew, to the top. Now it was time to enjoy about 14 miles of flying so fast with an awesome tailwind – so fast I’d have to break for cattle guards as I didn’t want to die. I probably could’ve pushed harder, but it was nice to just spin lightly and enjoy going faster than 9mph for once.
One more stretch of northbound road into the crosswind, and then it was time to fly into the finish.
4:42:10, 67 miles,1st place for women (and about 15th overall). Whew!
I crossed the line, found some shade, and got my aching feet out of my shoes as quick as possible. Grabbed a beer out of trough, admired Ashton Lambie’s quads and Lauf, and found some friends.
Overall, wind aside (which is an uncontrollable factor), this was a great course and race! The roads were in great shape, despite the warnings about conditions – barely any washboard and not loose at all. It was definitely necessary to either have navigation on a GPS, or a cue sheet as the course was barely marked, but I think this is pretty common for gravel races due to the large sizes of the courses. I had no issues with using my Garmin and the TCX file. And honestly, the wind was manageable. I’ve ridden in worse, at least mentally.
Nutrition wise, I played with a different strategy. Usually I try to feed with a SIS gel every hour, but this day I did every ten miles starting about 18 miles in. I used my Camelbak Chase Vest with a 2L bladder of water with 300 calories of lemon Tailwind mixed in (which was about the one hour mark). I consumed 6 SIS gels, a combo of regular, electrolyte, and caffeinated ones. This seemed to work out well, but I think I might’ve needed more frequent gels to keep the energy levels up. Robidoux also served as a my shake down for The Dead Swede, which is coming up in two weeks, and that course has more climbing (and more frequent as it’s filled with rollers), so I’ll keep feeding strategies in mind.
Starting a “race season” at the end of June is something unheard of for me, as I’m usually racing March-December, if not all year around thanks to random fat bike races. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like 2020 would be the year that would mock me with the best fitness of my life with no chance to use it outside of Strava QOMs.
Thankfully, Bear Bait 8 was given the go ahead up in Casper for June 27th. Though field sizes were down, I was thankful for the opportunity to go ahead in race in a pretty microbiologically safe way, COVID-19 screening waiver and all.
This is my third year of entering the 8 Hour Solo category, but sadly no other women registered for this year so I really, in theory, didn’t have to try hard to win. But that thought is nonsense, so I decided to see how many of the men in the solo category I could beat and to actually earn my win, and get the most out of my entry fee.
The trails on Casper Mountain remain fantastic, and I settled into the course which was about a mile longer than 2019’s. 8 hours is a long time to ride a bike, so I reminded myself to pace at the beginning, letting the duo and team racers fight it out for the fastest lap award, as I tried to calm my asthmatic lungs in the dust. I turned a 49 minute first lap, which is about four minutes faster than my fastest 2019 lap, which puzzled me… it must’ve been a faster course, or maybe I was faster? (Or maybe both?)
Things went well for about the first three laps, and then the struggle bus arrived at the station. It was a hot one this year, with no typical cool temperatures and/or rain. Dry, hot, dusty. Everything ached. I started to realize everything I did wrong like a newbie (honestly, I really was out of practice on racing and preparing to race my bike this year). I wore carbon soled shoes… my feet can’t stand endurance mountain bike racing in carbon shoes (I usually wear decently cheap composite soled shoes for long MTB races). I realized this mistake on my second lap. I stupidly had my Brains on my Specialized Epic set pretty firm, and when I adjusted my front fork, I actually made it firmer, which killed my arms and hands on the rooty course. The heat made the flavor of my Tailwind mix very unpalatable. Ugh.
I stopped for a break after four laps, sitting down to enjoy an Uncrustable and a Red Bull, and this revitalized me. I felt spunky for my fifth lap, even after I had a wreck that was comical and really didn’t make sense (I punched a tree stump which flung me off the bike superman style, and I bounced. Literally bounced!). Sixth lap it all went downhill again, and I ended up sitting for a few minutes with my shoes off, massaging my combination numb and painful feet. I thought about quitting since I really didn’t need to keep going to “win.”
I took another break after my sixth lap, and decided to ditch the Camelback of Tailwind that I wasn’t drinking, and opted just to carry some SIS gels and a bottle of plain water. I drank a second Red Bull (this stuff is magic juice for racing, I swear! I learned Kate Courtney’s secret to success I think!). I took off, feeling revitalized once again, and a lot lighter without the Camelback on my back.
I can through at 60.9 miles, and 7 hours 44 minutes after my eighth lap and called it good. Because at Bear Bait 8 you can complete your final lap before or after eight hours, I could’ve kept going, but called it good due to the pain in my feet (if I didn’t have that pain, I would’ve entertained a ninth lap). This effort was good enough for the win in my field of one (ha ha), and also 5th in the men’s category, finishing ahead of two of the guys.
Whew, third Bear Bait 8 solo done and dusted, and all the random quirks of racing worked out! And unlike most races, I finished with the thought of “I’ll be back in 2021 for another solo!” Eventually I’ll learn to do a 4 Hour Duo, but until then….
Pay attention to what shoes I grab. I haven’t worn my carbon MTB shoes all season, so why I grabbed them out of my car versus my composite pair was beyond me.
Tailwind was mixed too strong for my taste buds this go around. This year I have been playing around with using SIS gels along with Tailwind for a better nutrition plan for gravel racing, so I think I should’ve mixed my Tailwind at about half strength so it would’ve remained more palatable (I mixed 700 calories in two liters, I think 300-400 would’ve lightened up the sugary flavor).
Don’t ever, ever set the front Brain to nearly firm. Yeesh, Heidi. There’s even a sticker saying which way to turn it! I can’t believe I raced my bike for years with it set up like that, how awful!
Starting my race season at the end of June is rough.
Lessons aside, still not bad for what is quite possibly my only mountain bike race for 2020 (but hopefully not the only race).
I came into the new year motivated to get back to where I was a couple of years ago. I started piling on the miles, and riding long rides I never thought I could survive. Back to back 65 mile days, riding with fast groups, doing stilly stuff like riding my heavy gravel bike up Rist Canyon. By mid-March I was nearing 1000 miles ridden. 2020 race season was going to be my b*tch!
Then, well, a pandemic of a novel virus happened.
Like probably every American out there, I’ve watched as my life upended in the last few weeks. Races cancelled, permits pulled, group rides called off. As people battled for toilet paper, work situations became uncertain, and travel basically banned, athletes have had the struggle of what to do now.
It’s been hard, I won’t lie! I know (as I’ve read it on social media), a good chunk of society is like “get over it, it’s just a stupid bike race.” I think that’s trivializing the situation. First off, nobody can tell someone else how to feel, how to grieve, how to feel loss. Yes, are people dying, losing their jobs, etc? Hell yeah. But that doesn’t mean a cyclist can’t feel sad, depressed, angry, whatever about their situation. I use cycling to even out my mental health and deal with day to day stress. Cycling is how I connect with others, socialize, and just feel normal. That’s all been threatened. While the outdoors is not cancelled (yet), most group rides are. I feel isolated from my friends, especially ones I’ve finally reconnecting after years of blowing off riding a bike, and that’s hard. I do not spend forty hours a week with people who are cyclists, let alone athletes, so I have been living for the weekends this year. I’m also angry at myself for blowing off 2018 and 2019, and not riding as much and in a way feel like this is some weird karmic payback for largely turning my back on cycling the last few years (yes, I know irrational. Shush).
So what’s my plan? I’m forging ahead, sticking with my training plan and milking every day I can ride outdoors to the fullest. My yoga studio moved to a live stream mode. Kate Courtney is posting up fantastic videos of her strength routines (she wants to kill me I think, or so my hamstrings tell me). I reactivated Zwift when I want something more than the blue boxes of TrainerRoad and weather/daylight is not cooperating. I’m watching the food consumption. I’m plotting new routes I can ride from my house that I have never explored.
My goal “A” race for the year falls on June 6th, which is tricky. I will be absolutely, devastatingly heartbroken if it gets cancelled, but I also know eventually racing has to be allowed again. It’s easy to just throw the hands up and want to give up, but as I look at the crazy things I have managed to accomplish so far in 2020, I don’t want to give up the fitness I have regained.
For now… let’s remember some of the fun times of 2020.
2019 marked something new for me: the first season I’d attempt to actually legit train for cyclocross. Whaaaaaa, training you say? I know, bizarre. So at the end of July, after finishing up my silliness of Mountain Bike Nationals and the Laramie Range Epic in the same weekend, I began my cyclocross training plan. My motivation was a string of three years finishing 2nd in the Colorado Cross Cup in the singlespeed category. So there I was in my living room, doing some godawful foundational strength routine, grunting through gritted teeth “Girls are going down this season!” (in the most loving sense… I legit love the women I race against!). And I ran… hills… multiple times. Including 20 times in a row in near 100 degree heat in the Red Desert. I did intervals for the first time ever outside on my road bike. People were going down.
My season opener was Modern Market Cross way back in mid-September. I took the hole shot, and held it for about half a lap – until a silly extended climbing portion that just sucked. I’d hold on for 3rd place. I think the field was 7 or 8, so not a shabby start to my season, considering historically I don’t catch my groove until November in cross.
Blue Sky Velo Cup saw only two of us line up to race, so I finished 2nd. LOL.
CycloX Valmont… oh Valmont. For some reason I just never race well here. Without Limits changed up the course A LOT, making it very “turny” (aka more technical), which was a nice surprise. This was probably the biggest singlespeed field of the year. Naturally, I took the holeshot (oh if cross races were just 100m long), and held it up the climb until Errin and Sarah snuck around me. I strangely found myself in 3rd, so I went like hell to maintain that. It all seemed well, until the last half of the last lap, where I washed out on a gravel corner. I hit the ground hard and immediately bounced back up to spectacular applause, briefly reaching behind to make sure my butt wasn’t exposed, and took off to hold onto my 3rd place position… and I did! HOLY CRAP I got a Valmont podium with a full field of 10! I also earned a massive new scar across my left lower leg.
Cross was shaping up to be a hot and dry affair this year in Colorado. Stem CiderX was another brand new race, and had a ridiculous course with a ton of climbing. I was the only singlespeed woman brave enough to apparently take it on, so I got to take it “easy,” take some hand ups, and still win. Ha, we all need one of these races every once in awhile!
Primalpalooza is one of my least favorite courses on the BRAC calendar, and this year it was coupled with crazy wind. Held it together for a 2nd place. Meh, I could do without racing this course ever again.
Needless to say, burning out was on my mind. Cross season began a weird downhill tumble… I suffered some rather bizarre mechanicals on my singlespeed bike and tire issues on my geared bike. Then in mid-October, right after the US Open and on the night of my birthday, the familiar sign of a scratchy throat started and I was knocked out sick for one full race weekend, and about 10 days in general with a respiratory virus. And with that went my motivation. I knew it would be another year of a 2nd place finish in the Colorado Cross Cup since before then, and now it was cemented. Then after Cross of the North I contracted norovirus and spent a week making friends with any toilet I found, all the while traveling to Dallas for work, and not really eating any food for six days straight. By mid-November I was done, mentally and physically.
CycloX Interlocken is one of my favorite races, and this year I took the holeshot and stayed out front for a long time, putting as much hurt into Sarah as I could before she got around me. After about one lap in, my chain started clunking and catching a lot, which was making me nervous, so I backed off the power a lot (not easy to do on a grass course like Interlocken). This allowed Sarah to ride away from me. The clunking intensified, so I held onto 2nd as best as I could. After I finished, I was told that I was missing two chainring bolts, which was noticed on my bike before I even raced. Well that explains the clunking and catching and weird ness! I began the scramble to locate new bolts as I was racing the next day. What a bizarre to say the least… just happy the other 3 very loose bolts held. Sigh… what could have been. If there was a race I could’ve beaten Sarah at this year, I felt like this was the one 😦
I oddly enough do not have a photo from Amy D Breaking Barriers Cross. That race just went like poo from the start. Bad start, and I washed out on the first corner. I was in 5th, and then on the last climb of the last lap, my rear wheel seized, and I was bucked from my bike. I managed to get it kinda moving so I could finish out the race without it turning into a duathlon. Whyyyyy with the weird mechanicals? Singlespeed bikes aren’t suppose to break…
The next big weekend was the US Open of Cyclocross at Valmont. I hate racing singlespeed this weekend as a lot of people who don’t have UCI licenses, but are otherwise cat 1 and 2 racers, pile into the category. It didn’t really happen the first day this year, but still from the start I didn’t feel good. Something was off. I kept tripping on the 5280 run up, and on the last lap I smashed my lower gum/teeth hard into the handlebars. So much pain!! I ended up with quite the sexy bruise on my chin, and it hurt to eat. Sigh. Revenge of Valmont.
I needed to change something up, so I jumped into the women’s cat 3 race on day 2 of US Open of Cyclocross. I had rediscovered my geared bike at one of the weeknight New Belgium races, and since I had the bike with me for the UCI race, I decided to give it a go (especially since singlespeed was too fast for me on this day). I had a great race, finishing 5th and really enjoying that shifter and 10 gear selection I had to use!
I have a UCI license for 2019. And dammit, I decided to use it! I was slightly terrified (okay, really terrified) to enter my first UCI elite women’s cyclocross race, and even the pre-ride super intimidated me. This would be my third race of the weekend, so I felt like I was approaching it all wrong, and did I mention that I still have cantilever brakes and have no idea how to pin on shoulder numbers?! (Luckily some cool dudes in the parking lot gave me the trick to shoulder numbers… water bottle in the sleeve!) But there I was lined up in not the last row of my first UCI race, and probably the second biggest field I’ve been in for cross. Naturally at the start it terrifies me, so I’m off the back chasing, and made passes on the climb. I found myself not in last place!! I ran those 5280 stairs, and rode harder than I had in a long time, all the while enjoying it. Then disaster. On climbing on Pete’s Plunge (nasty off camber) I bumped my rear tire. This is my first time ever burping a tubeless tire during cross after running them since 2015, and at first I just ignored it. Then I remounted after the run up and my weight slamming down onto the bike burped more out. I rode another lap on a squishy tire, still not in last place. Then I lost even more. I was effectively riding sketchy descents on a flat rear tire. I pulled into the pits and someone rushed to air me back up as I watched the races who I was ahead of ride through. I knew I was going to get pulled when I came around at this point, as I was in no-woman’s land, so I shrugged, and smiled, and finished out my race. Last place. Another “what could have been,” especially since I was riding so strong, and not feeling any pain or “omg this sucks and I’m dying thoughts.” I was fighting so hard for positions, going aggressive on the descents, and running those damn stairs. I kicked myself for not putting the singlespeed in the pits, so I at least could’ve had an option. Oh well. It was still a great experience and I’m happy I jumped into a UCI race!
I got sick shortly after US Open, so I had to miss Schoolyard Cross and CycloX Louisville. Feedback Cup in Golden was my return, and the weather gods smiled down with snow, so we would have proper cross conditions! I didn’t know how my lungs would do, but luckily it wasn’t too cold, and I love these conditions. I had a very slow start, but made some passes on technical parts and downhills, and found myself leading on the first lap as I let my bike dance in the mud underneath me. Patricia caught me on the climb back up through the start finish, and I settled in to ride 2nd wheel, forgetting all about the Mrs. Potato Head first lap prime ARGHHHHHH! (I would’ve gone for it if I remembered). I knew it was about holding on, and letting my skills do their magic. Sarah would catch me another lap or so in, and I settled into maintaining 3rd position ahead of some pretty strong racers. I just was loving the hell out of the course conditions. Seriously, I love that sensation of what I call “dancing” that my bike does in the mud. Most people hate it, I love it. This is why I spend all those hours on a fat bike in the winter on soft snow – so when it gets crappy in cross, I am familiar with how it feels. Boom, 3rd place… redemption for Amy D cross that was on the same course, and a nice comeback from illness.
Weather gods once again paid me a favor, and the following weekend at CycloX Sienna Lake was snowy, frozen, and muddy. Just depended on what time of day you raced! My pre ride was still pretty frozen, with scary deep ruts waiting to buck off unsuspecting cyclists. By the time we raced, it was semi frozen, but getting muddy. Suzie jumped into singlespeed, and her and I took off at the start. I was just happy to hang with one of the coolest girls I know for 1 minute or so, my jaw dropping as she cornered in such a beautiful manner. We caught the back of the open women insanely early, and wove our way through course traffic on a heavily rutted gravel section. Sarah motored past me at some point, so I took to maintaining my 3rd place position, enjoying once again that I could put my skills to work to make up for a sore lack of fitness.
Cross of the North weekend: my favorite time of the year! Sadly weather would remain dry, and inhumanly hot, unlike last year where a foot of snow fell.
This weekend was… disappointing.
In Saturday’s cat 3 race I just did not feel good… my stomach cramped and I ended up pulling out after a few laps. I think it was only my second DNF in a cross race. But I wanted to make sure I could recover for the main show later in the afternoon, the singlespeed race.
Probably my most heartbreaking race of 2019 was the singlespeed race on day 1 of Cross of the North. I took the holeshot, and settled into the lead. I felt strong, and I was going for the Homan Prime, because making $50 is awesome, and also I consider Cross of the North my hometown race, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to deliver good results here. I was so close to it, mostly just a sandpit and two run ups standing in my way from taking the prime, and maintaining a podium spot. The sandpit was long, and near the end my 165 pound body naturally bogged down a bit, so I dismounted to run the last 5 feet of it. As I dismounted, I was slammed into from behind by the woman behind me in the race, which pinned me underneath my bike, and jarring my handlebars into a position 90 degrees from normal. Race = over, really. I rode with my awful handlebar position to the run up, and stopped to twist them as back to straight as I could (I couldn’t get them all the way), and proceeded on. I was nearly in tears, but continued on. Eventually, I recaught Heather, and she asked if I wanted to ride with her and just drink and take hand ups. So we did just that… shenanigans abound! And hey, the more hand ups I took, the straighter my handlebars seemed, ha! We ended up crossing the finish line holding hands. We did singlespeed cyclocross properly. I still cried a lot that night. It just sucked. I get racing is racing, but grrrr.
After the events of day 1, day 2 of Cross of the North wasn’t appealing to me. I showed up, and rode my singlespeed to the Square1 tent, planning on DNS-ing my cat 3 race. With about 20 minutes to go I looked around, pulled out my bib number, and said “screw it, someone pin me up, I’ll do the cat 3 race!”. I hustled back to my car and changed bikes, and rode to the start line with no warm up and no pre ride. Oh, and by then I had two MASSIVE deep, open blisters on both of my heels that strangely formed the day before. (At least 1.5″ in diameter, each of them. Seriously, so painful). And sometimes it’s the races like this where it all goes right! I had a very strong race, finding the course similar to the weeknight configurations I have memorized, and traded and fought for positions. I’d end up in 10th, which isn’t shabby as Cross of the North brought out some of the biggest and deepest women’s cat 3 fields of the season. Boo-yah, a victory for my weekend! (oh, and no burping. Tire stopped acting up. Thanks geared bike…)
I legit wasn’t going to do the singlespeed race, which was the last race of the day, but then I discovered that it was just Sarah and I registered, and she didn’t want to be on the podium alone. I agreed to race, and ten seconds in my body tossed up its white surrender flag. I couldn’t get my heart rate up, and my blisters throbbed. Knowing I had a guaranteed podium, I resorted to shenanigans and hands, and allowed Suzie to lap me twice. Ha, Cross of the North… what a fun weekend!
I hate the course of CycloX Westminster. It’s not singlespeed friendly and has an awful cement staircase. Yet there I was, still fighting nausea and having not eaten a real meal in about six days, on the starting line. Everyone thought I was crazy, but it was the final race in the CycloX series so why not. Yeah, race… went. LOL. I managed 2nd overall in the CycloX series, woohoo!
The Wyoming “State Championships” was the next day in Laramie. I use quotes because this apparently wasn’t sanctioned by Wyoming State Games this year, and I’m not sure even ten people in total showed up, so I’m not putting much value on it being a “championships” compared to other Wyoming states I have raced. The course was definitely everything a USAC/UCI course isn’t, complete with multiple creek crossings, but was actually quite fun. I’d end up 2nd, which was expected after not eating for a week and racing the previous day and the fact that Isa is a crazy fast 15 year old. I joked that I won the “grown ass woman” category. Either way, always fun to race in Laramie and hop creeks.
But then… I was exhausted. Mentally. Physically. Though the Colorado state championships were an absolute mud fest, which makes me giddy, I opted instead of 34 miles on gravel with my friend Leigh and her husband, riding to a brewery in Boulder and getting use to being on a bike for more than 45 minutes. It was a fun day and I didn’t regret at all not racing states.
No, it wasn’t the picture perfect season I had envisioned. Racing rarely goes that way anyway. But I am pleased with progress I gained this year. I felt more confident on barriers, and had some more success in run ups. I also just learned to keep moving through adversity, including my first mechanicals in 7 seasons of racing cross. I might race the last cross race on the Colorado calendar on December 8th, but I haven’t decided. Otherwise, I’m declaring an end to my 2019 race season!
I always like to shout out to those who helped me be successful the whole year… 9Seventy Racing teammates, the amazing people of Square1 Cycling, Maxxis Tires for their support, Tailwind Nutrition for their support, Theresa Hansen at Little Lotus Yoga, Anthony Zegan of BikeWyo – my ever awesome mechanic, and friends and family who deal with the “no, I’m racing my bike then…” nonsense.
I use to blog every single one of my races, and slowly that has faded away over 7 or so odd years of bike racing. I came to the realization that although I keep the CO/WY race calendar updated, and my race results page, I hadn’t otherwise written about anything since the Dead Swede.
So my 2019 summer of mountain bike racing went a little like this…
Gowdy Grinder broke my heart. Second place and I were right together when I snapped my chain about two or three miles into the race. I ran (not sure why), continuing along the course until my friend Lydia caught me and helped get the chain back on enough I could get to the finish to DNF. I handed off my bike to my mechanic, and went home and cried in the shower. I knew I could’ve had such a great race once we got into the technical stuff where being a local is an advantage. I give up on ever racing another Gowdy Grinder.
Laramie MTB Series started, and we had really weird run of weather with cold temperatures and rain. I love rain and crappy conditions, so I rode to 1st place in Race #1 (yes, I actually raced against someone… they just didn’t call her up for podium), and 3rd place in race #2. The rest of the LMBS series I toodled off the back of every race, struggling to push like 4mph. Meh. I would end up finishing third overall in the series, so I’m back on the open women’s overall podium. Last time I was on it was in 2016 when I won the whole she-bang, so it was a reunion of sorts.
One of my “A” races for 2019 was the Bear Bait 8. I first did this race last year as my first taste of an endurance solo event, and I loved the course so it was easy to sign up to give it another go. My friend Wendy accompanied me to the race, which is always fun. I really wanted to win, so I focused on hammering my first lap to build a lead, and then remain steady from there on out. The first 4-5 hours of the race went by really fast, and I was way ahead of 2018’s pace. Then my body realized it’s not built for racing for 8 hours, and I hopped on the struggle bus a bit. I came through at 7 hours 45 minutes, completing my eighth lap, and debated going out on an nineth lap, but my back was fried. Nonetheless, it was enough to secure the “W” and best of all, the biggest payout I’ve gotten at a race ($300!!).
For whatever reason, after June ended I stopped riding my bike. Great preparation going into the national championships, ha! I registered for nationals just for the experience and the fact that Winter Park is mere hours from my house. Surprisingly I found the course to not be as horrid as I was expecting, as the climbing is never too steep. It was sorely lacking in technical terrain, but had enough tight, rooty, downhills to play to my advantages.
Cat 1 women started at 7:35am, and a start line crash happened near me in the field of 15, which I was able to swerve around, and I got a decent start on the first of three laps. Once I hit the tight downhill single track I made several passes. That would be the story… get passed on the climbs, drop ’em on the downhills. I think I was as high as 7th place at times, and would settle for 10th after a good battle with the gal who ended up in 9th. I was legit expecting to be last place at nationals (so did USAC’s race predictor…), so to finish in the Top 10 made me super happy. Oh to race without expectations!
I had the Laramie Enduro… or Laramie Range Epic… whatever the name is now, the next day after nationals, which was just stupid (can you tell which one I registered for first?). This was my final “A” mountain bike race of the year, but I adjusted expectations when I stopped riding in July and decided on nationals. People were fast this year, and I wasn’t so fast. I did take six minutes off my 2018 time, but instead of the podium, I landed in 5th. So I immediately left, headed home to shower and to recover…
Because the next day was nationals short track. Yes. I made my own stage race apparently.
Short track at nationals was the race of “could’ve beens” as the course was exactly what would be awesome for me and my power curve, but alas the legs were toast after going couch-to-three-races-in-a-row. Still, wasn’t last place, though I was so excited when I got pulled under the 80% rule.
And that was it. I finished my mountain bike season on a Sunday at short track nationals, and started my cyclocross training plan on Tuesday. Time to get to the fun stuff!
I still think I’m trying to figure out what I think about mountain bike racing. Maybe it’s because I got stuck in a groove of always racing the same ol’ stuff year after year. 2020 just may be the first year that I do not spend Memorial Day weekend in Gunnison racing the Growler, which I have done since 2015. Maybe it’s because I’m still working through my own feelings of dealing with not being as fast as I once was – well, as fast as I once was going uphill. My descending has gotten faster and better every year, so I might have to play around with that (downhill at nationals anyone?). So I shall see where 2020 takes me on the mountain bike!