OK, so I’ve done a few gravel races I suppose, mostly Old Man Winter Bike Rally (3 times) and a fundraiser called Roads to Ruts in Douglas, but both were either in the winter or very low key events. The Dead Swede in Sheridan, WY, would mark my foray into one of the bigger gravel races exploding onto the scene.
Sheridan is an amazing place to ride. And it’s in Wyoming.
I wanted a podium
I had teammates going which meant for once I would not have to drive to a race (!!!)
The Dead Swede has a few distance options – 100, 40, and 20 miles. Because I have only once rode 100 miles on a bike, I opted for the 40 mile distance as I knew my hacked together fit on my cyclocross-turned-“gravel” bike wouldn’t bring out any weird pains at that distance, and also that I know I can hammer that long. In a weird bike race season that is either a triumph mountain peak or a barren canyon of despair, I haven’t been setting too many goals… except for the Dead Swede. I wanted to win… well, podium. I’ll take that. I’m trying to be better at realizing I can’t control anything about the race except for me, and sometimes you just have to accept a faster person registered (but it doesn’t mean I won’t give them hell on the first climb and make them work for it for a little while!).
After a fun road trip on Friday with dino-sitting, Moe’s, and exploring our amazing AirBnB, my three teammates plus Sam (eh, he became honorary 9Seventy Racing for the weekend I suppose) readied our bikes and prepared for what lay ahead. I kept joking that they were all my domestiques that would tow me to the finish, which I think started to annoy all the boys.
Sam, Mike, and I picked the front row of the 330+ 40 mile racers that lined up. I hate mass starts, and I hate them even more in a crowd mostly filled with people that have never road raced or ridden in a peloton. The incredibly short neutral roll out took place, and then bam! 8 miles of pavement to get us warmed up. For the most part the pace was fast but reasonable, with some surges and weird slow downs. Someone tried an attack, but I also think they were 15 (and would win it overall), so nobody really chased. I kept my eye on the Douglas squad, which all seemed to be working for Terri. Dammit, where’s my domestiques?! LOL.
After eight miles we hit the gravel and immediately the first big climb of the day. The still air combined with my black skin suit and hot sun made me want to melt but I made it to the top as the first female. I think over the next several miles I stayed close to Chuck and Terri, but eventually dropped off. But it was cool, because I was having fun and so excited I was feeling powerful and fast, especially after the disappointing race a week prior at the Gunnison Half Growler. Time to maintain this second overall female position!
Super, crazy fast descents (well, if you’re me… I descend a bit recklessly on gravel… wait, I mean 43mph on 32mm tires and useless cantilever brakes on loose gravel is totally safe…), long grindy uphills. The gorgeous scenes of Sheridan County flew by along with the miles, and surprisingly quickly I reached Dayton for a tiny bit of pavement before turning back towards Sheridan. The next gravel road was rolly, falsely flat, had a mild headwind, and was hot. I started picking off 20 mile racers, who started in Dayton, hoping everyone would hold their line as I flew around on the downhills in some sort of silly aero tuck (making that skin suit do it’s job, clearly). Around hour one I started sipping my Tailwind, cognizant of the fact I needed to be taking on the calories and hydration in the sun.
The third (in my mind) signifiant climb loomed in front of me and I sighed and shifted into the granny gear to spin up. To my surprise, Tony from Rapid City caught me. Tony and his crew saved my sanity during the 2015 Tour de Wyoming, and soon we were flying up the hill together, catching up on the last four years of our lives (which consisted of “I stopped racing and training.” “Hey, so did I!”). I’d hang with him until the beer and bacon aid station, which I blew past. But I enjoyed the company… my pace up that climb had definitely quickened with Tony distracting me!
Soon traffic picked up, just in time for the final climb. Which was a miserable hill with a false summit. The vehicle traffic kicked up dust climbs to insult my lungs, and due to the traffic, we all had to climb in the loose gravel on the side which added some trickiness. I caught my teammate Ty as Sam came around me – I had thought Sam was miles in front of me, but turns out he was chasing back from a double flat.
Pavement. Ugh. The last handful of miles on the pavement sucked. I had flatted on a road ride in Sheridan last summer, so I was weary of the shoulders and road debris, sticking to the travel lane. I didn’t want to risk anything. Ooooo the school… I’m close… ooooo the bike path, I’m even closer! Yesssss the steep downhill into the park… YESSSS THE FINISH LINE!
2nd place overall women, 2nd place 30-49 women, 13th place overall out of 330 or so racers. 2 hours and 26 minutes.
(And all done on a 2012 Specialized Crux with canti brakes and relatively narrow tires in comparison to today’s trends, and hamburger seat bag. I thumb my nose at you, industry marketing tactics!)
It’s been a long time, or even never, since I have been this proud of my race effort and finish. I raced smart in the opening pavement miles, hiding in the pack. I railed the descents, and made sure to stay steady on the climbs. I put forth a solo time trial effort over most of the course, much of it into a hot headwind all by myself. I was so freaking happy!
So yeah… I like this gravel stuff. It’s a whole new different style of racing. It has some roadie tactics without the 15-20 hour a week training commitment Colorado women’s cat 3 road racing seems to command just to not get dropped in the first fifteen seconds. It has a need of skills that crosses over from cyclocross and mountain biking. It has crazy awesome courses on little travel roads. And in events like the Dead Swede, it has crazy huge women’s fields!
So where exactly has 2019 gone? I guess it is true – time just keeps speeding up faster and faster the older you get. I’m already six races into my 2019 season, and haven’t written about a single one!
I kicked off 2019 with the Old Man Winter Bike Rally in February. I had planned on doing the 100km long course, but end of January my whole pre-season was derailed by a crazy sinus and respiratory infection. I played it safe, and bumped down to the 50km course. I was off the bike for a considerable amount of time, so really didn’t know what to expect. Unlike when I did Old Man in 2017, this year was cold (mid 20s) and sloppy. I was riding in a podium position for about half the race, but then bonked. My bottles froze, which is the downfall to running a purely liquid form of nutrition, so I also didn’t take in any calories. I would end up 7th place out of 97 women in 1 hour 50 minutes, which I find to be crazy impressive considering I was still on antibiotics and feeling like I was functioning with half a lung.
Then came a lapse in mental judgement, when I decided I would race some criteriums in March. Yes, criterium as in crit, as in those things I swear I will not race because they’re the most dangerous things ever. I dunno, I’m just as confused as you are.
March 23rd was the Louisville Crit, which seemed to have an okay course. I parked by my pro roadie friend Mel, and we rode to registration together. Cat 3 women would start with the P12’s, which is just silly if you ask me. I almost missed the start because I was too busy not preparing to race my bike. I was dropped in the first ten seconds of the race, so I began my 50 minutes of solo TT effort. About halfway through I started yelling at the Square1 folks and photographers about wanting a beer hand up, and behold, on the next lap, Barry was on course with a beer in his outstretched hand!!! I may have finished DFL in this race, but I won in fun had because I GOT A BEER HANDUP IN A CRIT! That is all. Also, don’t attempt to sprint against Ashley Zoener. Even my 800 watts was child’s play. Lesson learned.
Riding my beer handup high, I entered the Oredigger CSP Crit the following weekend. This race really isn’t very crit-y, and takes place on the Colorado Highway Patrol training track. So needless to say, all I did was wish I was ripping around it in a car. This time I hung with the Cat3/4/5 group for about two or so laps before I was dropped and began my solo TT for 22nd place, which was not last, for the record. Hey, I get the most of my entry fee!
Because I pretty much stopped formally training at the end of January when I got sick, my fitness was being very slow to coming around, and I was beginning a crazy intense block of travel for work. Boulder Roubaix was wayyyyy faster than the previous time I had raced it in cat 3, mostly thanks to young juniors who apparently can just sprint for hours on end. The gravel was fairly sketchy this year, and there were flats galore and crashes. I hung on for about half a lap before being dropped. I was in last place for awhile, but finally caught the girl in front of me and was able to distance myself from her. I stopped briefly to check on Heather who had flatted and was walking it out. In the end, I’d get 11th place. Not last. I got some tan lines.
Finally it was time to end the road racing nonsense with the CSU Cobb Lake Road Race in mid-April. Pulling in for my volunteer shift, I was pretty set on not starting the race. Less than an hour before the start, I pulled my bib numbers and walked to my car and got ready. I am so happy that I decided to start! I actually like this circuit course, and every time I race it I end up just riding solo most of the time, and I don’t mind it. Strangely enough, two laps in I was still in the front pack, which included Jennifer Valente (a Google search tells me she’s an Olympic medalist… so you know, not slow at all). Third lap of the six lap race I was dropped on the climb. That’s probably the hardest thing for me as I struggle with weight and regaining form is not being able to climb like I use to, so my ego cried a bit. I put in the work to try to catch the group, aided by Dejan, who was moto-reffing for the day, cheering me on during a crazy sprint effort when I recontacted the group… to have them all take off sprinting. Yeah, I don’t get road race tactics. Oh well, onward I continued. I was lapped by a finishing men’s category at the end of my 5th lap, and there were a few seconds of confusion while the officials debated if I had another lap to do or not. I didn’t want a DNF, so out on the sixth lap I went. Whew. Long race… I was last among the finishers, but there were three DNF’s. I am happy I wasn’t a DNS, as DFL is better than a DNS!
And then I started a crazy two weeks which included travel to Las Vegas, then straight to Florida, then back for barely 48 hours before heading to England and then onto Finland. No bikes, and sea level. Great combo heading into mountain bike race season!
The UW Cycling Team decided to host a race on the brand new trail system east of Laramie called the Schoolyard Scramble on May 4th, and I figured it was a lot better than getting my butt handed to me down in Castle Rock at Ridgeline Rampage. I get my bike off the car, and go to warm up, and immediately hear a loud, “liquid squishing” sound coming from my rear shock. I let Alan, John, and finally Dewey from the Pedal House listen to it, who confirmed it was blown, but “still okay to race on.” Greattttt. I silently thanked my lucky stars I never sold my other Epic (aka “the old race bike”) so I would have something to race the Growler on in a few weeks, and took to the starting line.
Schoolyard Scramble had the weirdest XC race start ever… where we just soft pedaled. I eyed Isabell, watching to see if she’d jump, but nothing. Finally with the single track appearing, I jumped in front, and pushed the pace, and she stuck on my back wheel and we dropped Melanie and the rest of the field. It was all going well until on a fast downhill I followed the guy in front of me off course, which allowed Isabel to jump into the lead. Dammit! So I took to just keeping my pace steady, staying upright, and not listening to the liquid squishing sound. I noticed my handling skills were quite rusty, and I wanted to over steer on every corner. Eek. However, I kinda felt like a bit of my old XC racer self, which was a relief! I’d finish second, a little under a minute back from Isabel, and about a minute over Melanie. And the best part is I got a UW cycling team kit as my prize!! Woohoo!
With my mountain bike race season started, I feel a new renewed interest in mountain bike racing. I know deep down I am shifting towards cyclocross being my primary discipline, but I think having last year off from an intense mountain bike season has rekindled my fire a bit. Though my season is really a 180-degree difference than the one I had planned, I still want to race a lot and just enjoy the fact I can race a bike. So needless to say, I’ve filled every weekend through June 8th with mountain bike races, including a USAC nationals qualifier (Battle the Bear), just so I’m qualified just in case I decide to race nationals for the experience.
I’ve never been a mantra type person. Never really had a saying or anything, except for some self-talk like “keep it smooth” or “don’t freaking wreck now!” in the heat of a mountain bike race. But this past cyclocross season taught me something, and morphed into the mantra I ended up embracing: Keep Fighting.
I really didn’t know what to expect from cyclocross this year. Honestly, it’s my favorite discipline and I was just very excited to get back to my little wacky cross family for a few months, but my fitness never seemed to recover to previous levels after surgery. Nonetheless, I decided I would attend every Front Range BRAC/USAC cross race, minus the three I’d miss due to my Iceland trip (I know, horrrrribbbbllleeee excuse!). I’ve never raced every single event in the season; in fact, I barely did any races in 2017. I also decided to supplement the USAC stuff with weeknight races at New Belgium and a few of the Southeast Wyoming CX Series races. Ambitious. Maybe crazy.
So after nearly a month off the bike and three weeks spent hiking around at nearly sea level, I dived into the 2018 cyclocross season in the single speed category.
The single speed women’s category grew… like double/triple from last year
It got super fast
Ummm, I barely ride a bike
The first race at Primalpalooza on September 30th was a disaster for me. I ended up finishing minutes off the back. I think I was just walking my bike at one point. It was miserable and heart wrenching. Immediately I thought “oh crap,” and stared at all the races I plotted out. Now, some might roll their eyes and think I only like racing a bike when I’m winning. Which hey, winning is super nice, but so is also not being like 4 minutes off the next racer. I thought I maybe jumped in over my head.
But alas, the skin suit came out one week later at CycloX Interlocken. It was rainy, which led to some slippery conditions which plays to my technical strengths. I had a decent start, and on the second lap was just about to contact 4th & 5th places when I got lost on course, rode the sand pit twice, and later got lost AGAIN near the end of the lap. So… freaking… frustrated. Luckily, I was able to make up a few positions, and ended up a mid-pack 6th, which was a relief. OK, it’s still there. Barely, and with some weird route finding issues, but there. But I did find myself whispering over and over “Keep fighting, Heidi, keep fighting!”
Next big weekend was the US Open of Cyclocross weekend at Valmont. I always race like poo at Valmont, but I do like the mountain bike-ness of the course, and the fact I can usually find something to launch my bike off of. I had a good start on Saturday, but for some reason decided to not turn my bike in a gravel corner, which caused me to panic brake and wipe out. Seriously, WTF?! I ended up 4th on the tough course that involve to many steep run ups, but one awesome jump I went off of every lap to spectaculars’ delight. Once again, mid-pack. Sunday’s conditions had me eagerly bouncing off the walls, with weather doing a 180 and dumping about a foot of snow on the course. Usually Valmont races are hot sufferfests, so I was all for the snow! I had a great start, but soon my shoes and my pedals each were balls of ice, which led to me having to strider-bike a lot of parts where Sarah could clip in and keep pedaling. The time I wasted trying to get my feet to even contact my pedals for more than 2 seconds meant a 2nd place finish. But finally, in my 6th season of racing cyclocross, I got my elusive podium at Valmont! Only took a ton of snow for it to happen. Lesson learned to pack some flat pedals in case of a repeat.
With a podium behind me, I dived into the following weekend, deciding to also race my women’s geared cat 3 category at Schoolyard Cross after the single speed race. Schoolyard was a bit annoying, as we started after the cat 5 men, which led to a lot of guys blocking the path. I sat in 3rd most of the race, but kept getting caught up in men falling over in front of me, or zooming around me on flat/straights and then slowing up horribly in the corners and blocking my way. The lost seconds added up, and I settled for 4th. Shoot. However, in the cat 3 race, I had an amazing start, and held on for 5th place, even though I kept forgetting I could shift on the bike. I hadn’t raced cat 3 in nearly 3 years, so it was a nice change. I split a hotel with my friend Wendy, just like we did “back in the day,” which was quite enjoyable.
CycloX Louisville, aka Bowl of Death, was the day after Schoolyard. My legs definitely felt the previous day’s efforts, and Bowl of Death is no cake walk. There were a few position changes throughout the race, and I knew I just had to keep pushing to hold onto my 5th place. Once again, that whole Keep Fighting thing came up. I professed my love to Meredith Miller as she lapped me. Sometimes the suffering just needs to end!
By now, it was end of October, and it seemed like we were on the downward side of the cross season hump. I launched into my first official week of 2019 training, motivated by ambitious race plans to get back to structured intervals and the trainer. I knew it can always be a challenge to juggle intervals and base training while still racing cross twice a weekend, but I felt up for it.
I’ve never raced the Feedback Cup before, and was nervous how the course would treat me, as it seemed very fitness based vs. skills. It was also hot in the morning, so I decided to race without gloves because I felt too overheated (I think this was the last time I’d think that this cross season). I had a great start, keeping on Errin’s back wheel. The course at race speeds ends up being a blast, and challenging. The field strung out a bit, and Michelle and I traded positions a few times before I could power away on a gentle climb. Now sitting in 3rd, I knew I wanted this podium more than anything else at that moment in time. I pushed and pushed to increase the gap, as I knew Michelle was quicker on the two sections that required being off the bike. Excitingly enough, I finished on the lead lap, and was not lapped by the open women! 3rd place, amazing podium hair, so excited!
Tired legs greeted me for Sunday’s race that weekend, the Republic Cycles Northglenn race. I had decided to do 15 miles of gentle mountain biking in Boulder County to kill time Saturday afternoon, and was semi-worried it was too much for my legs. Oh well… it was the Halloween race, and shenanigans were meant to be had! The course, which is rather flat aside from steep, loose hills on the backside, was fast. The start was fast and furious, and Sarah and I took to the front. I ended up rear ending Sarah twice on the first lap, which is the great thing about racing single speed… it’s really hard to break the bikes! Sarah would end up gapping me off the front, so I settled into maintaining my 2nd place position. This race made for the best podium photo of the year, with me and a giant bottle of vodka, Sarah with her winner’s jersey, and Melissa just posing completely normal with the two lunatics. OK, maybe the mojo is back…
So one of my biggest flaws that I’ve always had as a bike racer is mentally setting myself up for the outcome based on pre-registration lists and who shows up at the start line. You know, one of those, “ughhhh SHE registered, now we’re all racing for 2nd” type of mentalities. I’m bad about it at cross. I see Liz, Heather, and Errin (aka the Mosaic squad) roll up, and I know I’m racing for mid-pack-off-the-podium at that point. I don’t care how many times you tell me I’ve beaten them or hung onto their wheels, I won’t believe it. CycloX Sienna Lake started out just like that. It downpoured rain during our pre-ride, and while I was giddy to race in more crappy conditions, I knew the “fast chicks” were there. BAM! We start and I’m 3rd wheel. Umm… where’s Errin? Well, ok, they’ll catch me soon enough. Pedal pedal pedal, run smartly, bang mud off my cleats, clip in and GOOOOOO. Errin is back there, but I’m holding her off. KEEP FIGHTING DAMMIT! And so I did, oh so hard on the slick course. Second to last lap I gave up hope of securely clipping in and took to single speeding on essentially flat pedals as I knew I was losing precious seconds. I ran the run ups, and rode smart. 3rd place!!! Time to stop with the start line prophecies.
I raced in Laramie the day after Sienna Lake. 50mph head winds and bitter cold temps. My mom came out to watch which was fun. Laprele Park is horribly bumpy, and tumbleweed kept getting stuck in my cantilever brakes on my geared bike. I won the women’s category, and ordered a new geared bike the next day with disc brakes. Whoops.
Finally it was time for the most wonderful weekend of the year: CROSS OF THE NORTH!!! Seriously, I LIVE for this weekend every fall. It’s the closest I get to a “hometown” race for cross, and I love how many are out there cheering and heckling me. I decided to be ultra ambitious this weekend, and registered for SSW and SW3 both days. I had the new geared bike and I love the course/venue so much that it seemed smart.
Saturday’s SSW race took place at a chilly 8am. Like Schoolyard, we had the luxury of starting behind the cat 5 men. And by luxury, I mean headache. Another fast start, so we soon began catching them. Errin had a good, clean, impressively fast race, and took to the front, and never looked back. I settled into second, with Liz and Sarah stalking me from behind. I felt odd during this race, like I was experiencing it from out of my body, and never really felt like I was in it. But I kept on pedaling, enjoying the technical features that I’ve use to racing on between the short track and weekday cross series held on the same course. Eventually on the second to last lap Liz, Sarah, and I would all end up together, and I knew it would important to get my crap together for the final lap. Sarah slipped into 2nd, and I all out sprinted to maintain my 3rd place over Liz. In the end, I think less than 3 seconds separated 2nd-4th places! Such an exciting race, but that final sprint was horribly painful! Most importantly, I kept my COTN podium streak alive, with my 4th year of appearing on a single speed podium! (2015 – 3rd SS4/5; 2016 – 3rd SS4/5; and 2017 – 1st SSW). I took to some recovery, and enjoyed a sloppy SW3 race in the afternoon, still trying to figure out what I’m suppose to do with a shifter. But my new bike rocked!
Sunday’s weather forecast held up its end of the bargain for COTN, and snow greeted me in the morning. Once again, I was giddy to be racing in sloppy, icy conditions, and wondered what I did to appease the weather gods as Colorado cross seasons are usually 70 degrees, dry, and horribly dusty. The cat 5 men ended up being a huge ordeal to deal with, especially on the first lap. Sarah got off the front, and once again Liz and I battled out for our positions, with Heather sneaking up on us. By the last lap a curvy section of the course turned into an ice skating rink, and Liz and I took turns wrecking in front of each other numerous times, getting to be so comical I was just laughing. Finally I was able to stay upright long enough to create a gap, and hold onto 2nd place. Yessssssssssss! My SW3 race in the afternoon was the muddiest bike affair I’ve been part of aside from the 2014 Rumble at 18 Road. New bike was given a thorough mud coating, along with my mouth, teeth, face, and every item of clothing. I managed to fight to hold my 6th place finish after the next girl getting pretty close to me a few times. I’m getting better at this fighting thing!
Coming off 5 races of podiums and a great COTN weekend, I was optimistic for the rest of the season, but naturally cautious and still predicting my finish based on who I lined up with. CycloX Westminster was greeted with freezing rain. It was actually quite awful. I had a decent start, but suddenly my lungs gave me a big fact NO and I struggled to breathe in the moist, frozen 25-degree air. As racer after racer passed me in my category, I got a bit down, but eventually pulled on my big girl chamois and fought to stay not-last-place. Before the last lap I even had to toss my glasses as they had a thick ice layer over them. The bike was all icy, and even my chest and arms had an ice layer frozen to the fabric. I like bad conditions, but not freezing rain. I held on for 6th place, wheezing at the finish line and hightailing it home to set up an appointment with my doc. You need to breathe to race a bike…
The following day was the Wyoming Cyclocross State Championships here in Cheyenne. I hadn’t raced a state champs for Wyoming since 2015, when I easily pedaled to the win. I didn’t know what to expect this time around, as there’s some fast junior girls coming up in this area, and that sneaking fear Christy Olson could always appear, and I always am aware of the large target on my bike when I race in southeastern Wyoming. Luckily it was sunny, not too windy, and mid-30s, which turned Clear Creek Park into another mud fest. I swear I can’t keep the new bike clean! The course was very nicely designed, and utilized some good terrain features for off camber climbs and descents, sand pits, barriers, and tight turns. My plan was to go out hard, build a big lead, and then just hang on. Being non-USAC, Wyoming cross races tend to run a lot longer than the BRAC mandated 40-45 minutes the women see in Colorado. I knew I probably had an hour of racing to do. I executed my plan… and something totally cool happened… I finished on the lead lap of the open men! I wasn’t lapped by the fast dudes! Bad thing is I had a nearly 70 minute long race… but I wasn’t lapped! Wahooooo! Proud of this win for sure!
Then it was two weeks off before the Colorado State Championships. I briefly considered driving to Fruita to race the USAC double-header there to pad my CO Cross Cup standing, but realized I didn’t want to deal with I-70 traffic and wanted some quality family time (I’d curse when I’d see some SSW ladies go race it in the end… looked like an awesome course!). Kubo and I got out on the fat bikes for a ride, and otherwise we ate lots and relaxed.
The CO State Championships were at Salisbury Equestrian Park in Parker, where I rode to a 1st place finish last year on a muddy day. No mud this year, just hardback dirt and freezing cold temperatures. The single speed was at 4pm Saturday evening, meaning it was even colder, and getting dark fast (I’d finish after sunset). In what USAC is maintaining as “an honest mistake,” they intermixed the women in with the men, which meant one gal had a front row start and the rest of us were in rows 3-4. Not ideal and we all exchanged confused banter and looks at the start. I lucked out with a good start thanks to a parting of the men I could ride through and took off. I’d end up settling in 4th place, until the steep run up that was hard as concrete and slippery took my mojo and I was passed. So there I was in 5th, fighting, with a charging Liz, Sarah, and Melissa behind me. If this was a time to keep fighting, it was now with 1.5x cup points on the line, and a desire to at least say I was top 5. I once again came around the finish with Liz a few seconds off my back wheel and I nearly cried thinking of the pain of the COTN sprint. Luckily, it didn’t come down a full on sprint. Whew. 5th place!
Sunday of the state races I raced in SW3. I had the 3rd call up , which made me giggle as a junior girl thought they were calling her name instead. Big, tall 35 year old me in a sea of teenage girls! They took off fast at the start, and I hung to them, because hey, I have like 100 pounds of extra body weight which translates into one hell of a sprint and wattage cottage when needed. My great position ended at the steep wall run up, which everyone struggled to get up without slipping (100 extra pounds is a disadvantage when climbing straight up on slippery dirt apparently). So it was back to fighting for my mid-to-bottom pack finish. Racing with more than one gear available is super hard, and even harder on a fast course like Salisbury. On the last lap Lia would end up sneaking onto me, and into the tree portion coming into the finish she attempt to sprint past. I don’t know where I got the watts from, but I responded to the sprint and held her off through the sharp 180 turn into the finishing straight. Crap! I have to sprint again! Except we were sprinting straight into the back of the cat 4 winner who was posting up. Nonetheless we went for it, me getting the advantage in what felt like in my mind an impressive bike throw. I honestly wish I could’ve seen the finish line camera photo from it… cat 4 girl all posting up, two crazy cat 3’s behind her sprinting for 9th and 10th!
Finally the final race of the year… the Rocky Mountain Regional Championships. Though a bit fitness course, I do enjoy it. My race ended up not going as well as I wanted. I had a pretty solid first two laps, staying on Errin’s wheel in 4th place. I managed to power past her on the 3rd lap, and had a great gap until I slid out on one of the off camber, grass downhills. This completely killed my mojo, and my heart spiked to 196 as I ran up the hill. I’d proceed to fall back and back, eventually finishing 5th. But not before I took a double beer hand up on the last lap! So not exactly the result I wanted to have (and almost did, if I didn’t wreck), but at least I finished, which is more than I can say for regionals last year! My placing was good enough to land me in 2nd place for the third year in a row for the Colorado Cross Cup for single speed women!!
So that’s my 2018 cyclocross season in one long nutshell. A season that taught me to never give up, fight for every position, whether it’s a podium or not-last-place. To never look at the women around me and determine what place I’ll finish on their race resume alone. A season to use oxyclean to get out all the mud and grime, and to never wear drop-tail Pearl Izumi thermal bibs ever again. A season that finally gave me my mantra: Keep fighting. And that applies to so many more aspects of the world than a cyclocross race.
A long, ambitious cyclocross season takes a village. Though an individual sport on the course, no one can do it alone. To my boyfriend, who came and cheered and held bikes, and otherwise dealt nicely with the weird ass world that is cyclocross and competitive cycling, and my parents for dealing with another “no, I have to race that weekend, I’ll see you in mid-December” answer to planning time together. My team, 9Seventy Racing, and awesome teammates who also raced cross, or who would volunteer, cheer, etc. My extended cross family, that feels like a team though we all hail from other teams.. .from Feedback Sports jumping in to helping with wheel issues both days of CO States, Tricia loaning me a heart rate monitor, Without Limits for granting volunteer opportunities. The awesome, amazing, STRONG women of Colorado’s single speed category, who aren’t afraid to fight for women’s cycling and ensure we have a better playing field to play on. Tailwind Nutrition for keeping me fueled and recovered, especially on those crazy back to back weekends, or double race days. Anthony Zegan of BikeWyo (best bike mechanic ever!!) for keeping my bikes running smoothly. Patrick and the team at the Bicycle Station for getting me my pretty new Specialized Crux in an amazingly quick time. To Alan and Seth for posting “mediocre” on all my podium photos as an inside joke.
It’s time to rest, and train up for my most ambitious year yet – 2019.
I have a history with the Laramie Enduro. Not necessarily a pleasant history, but a history.
2013 – DNF at mile 52, which honestly was an impressive effort for my first year of racing a mountain bike and still very much being at the intermediate/cat 3 XCO distance.
2015 – Raced pro, finished 6th (not last!). Did well until mile 55 or so, then bonked, but I finished and I cried dramatic happy tears.
2016 – Gave my entry away. Wish I didn’t because it was the last year of that course style and weather was perfect for fast times. I think I could’ve been on the podium. Boo.
2017 – First year of the “half” course offering, and it was the last place I wanted to be in the world. I actually stopped and chatted up my friend for a good 15 minutes. No desire to race whatsoever.
Then came 2018. I registered for it before my hysterectomy was scheduled in late April, but knew it was a fun course, and 31 miles isn’t that bad, especially with the other long races I’d have under my belt. And I figured I would try to do halfway good.
So I showed up in much better spirits this year. My fitness had slowly started to come around with some strong days on the road bike, and a surprise not-last-place finish at the final LMBS race of the year, which I raced on incredibly sore and tender legs from the Breck-32 and quad 14er hike I had done mere days before. I let thoughts creep in about trying to make the podium, but knew I probably didn’t have that long MTB endurance it would take.
For the first time since 2013 I didn’t start in Wave 1, or “pro” wave. I think this actually was better, as the pace was definitely a lot less crazy. I tried to jump in a pace line for the first few miles of dirt road, but couldn’t hold it on some of the climbs as my legs struggled to warm up. Luckily the extra weight I’m carrying means I’m kinda pretty fast on the downhills.
Due to all the recent rains, the course was muddy with some gigantic mud puddles. I fretted over keeping my drivetrain in one piece, but otherwise had fun in the combination of mud, rain, and cow poop.
I was several miles in before any other wave 2 women caught up to me, which was surprising. Unfortunately in this race it is really hard to tell who is full or half course racers, and also age groups, which was new for this year. It makes things a mystery, but did provide some motivation for me to try to stay ahead as long as possible. Eventually around the time of the hike a bike from hell (which I actually rode halfway up for the first time ever!) a Honey Stinger rider caught me, followed by Roxzanne, who I proceeded to creep on like I do everyone at races (that’s how I befriended my dear friend Lydia during the Gunnison Growler… “Are you Lydia Holmes” all creepy on a hill… ha!). I tried to pace her for awhile, much to my delight (I’ll take pacing a national champion any day!), until I slipped my back wheel on a steep climb and had to come off the bike.
Overall the race continued to go well. I was in good spirits and happy to just be racing, and to not have been swallowed by a million other women. The dirt road portion that separates the Twin Mountain trails from Happy Jack was a bit obnoxious, but I rode with another guy and we chatted to pass the time. Once I was in Happy Jack I definitely got more excited as I can ride all this stuff eyes closed!
Up, up, down, through more mud, and on and on I went. I was pretty happy until the new re-route of Middle Aspen, which I found to be “enduro bro flow” stupidity and it soured me ever so slightly. Luckily it wasn’t that long before I was on LiMBS and headed towards the final massive climb of the day up Haunted Forest. Which took forever because I can’t climb anymore. But I knew once I was on the top it was just a short jaunt up Brown’s Landing, then the one last climb on Death Crotch and I was free!
On Death Crotch I nearly cleared a rock feature that I have never even tried to ride before which was a bonus… and then I spotted a lost Garmin that I picked up. I walked up the climb of Death Crotch because I simply didn’t feel the need to “prove” that I could ride it. I actually rode Death Crotch kinda crappy, mostly due to fatigue. Soon it was time to limp down Hooch… until the finish came into sight and then naturally, I stood and sprinted from the few racers behind me. Kubo told me I was one of the few he saw do that. Well, of course… I only have energy at the finish!
I finished in 3 hours 47 minutes and with a smile!
I really had no idea how I did, especially since there are multiple waves all timed differently. I finally found a spot where I could pick up cell reception to check the live online results… and who would’ve thunk, I got 3rd!
Four tries, and I finally had a podium at the Laramie Enduro! Woo hoo!
And with that… my 2018 mountain bike race season is over. I know… it seems like it didn’t even have time to get started! This summer went by damn fast! I’m kinda sad that I worked so hard trying to get a bit of fitness back, and now it’s all over, but hopefully some carries over to cyclocross.
600 calories of Naked and Green Tea Tailwind Endurance Fuel in 2L of water.
And I did a horrible job at consuming it due to the cooler temperatures. Luckily, like always, Tailwind had my back, though!
I had never ridden in Breckenridge, CO so when I realized I didn’t have plans for the weekend of July 14th out came the credit card and I registered for the Breck 32 (part of the Breckenridge 100, but the way more reasonable course option!).
So let’s see… raced this course unseen, only had heard of infamous portions like the loose rocks of Little French Creek. First major thought is how much damn road, both paved and dirt, it involved. I no longer own a hardtail, but aside from some rooty sections on the Colorado Trail, hardtail would’ve been nice for all the road racing portions and slogs up dirt roads. Or a road bike. Or gravel bike.
I don’t know where my body was for this race, but it wasn’t on my bike in Breckenridge. It was probably still sleeping in the hotel. Or back in 2016. One of the two. The start involved a paved slog up Boreas Pass road, which I took pretty chill as I knew there was a lot of climbing on tap. Have I mentioned how much I hate climbing paved roads on a mountain bike? Yeah, ugh.
Little French Creek led to some of the first hike a bike sections, which I’m horrible at. I can hike. I can bike (barely). But I can not hike and push a bike at the same time. I legit forget how to walk. It’s odd.
Pretty much I was just in the race to survive. I had nothing. I’ve never stopped so much on climbs in a race in my life. I even peed, I never do that! One point I ran into two older gentlemen and started chatting them up and then realized they didn’t have number plates so I started pleading that one of them take mine and finish out the race. I’m really good at apparently finding ways to waste time as the clock is ticking, ha! But it’s always nice to socialize. I mean, I wasn’t going to win!
What really killed me was getting so out of breath while descending. It was strange. I think the max altitude of this race is 11,100 feet, give or take, which historically isn’t high enough to trigger any sort of high altitude reaction from my body. But I wasn’t relaxing on the downhills.
Honestly, ugh. Such a negative race report, but this was a struggle bus the whole time for me. I know I have my limits physically due to deconditioning and my body still in some weird hormonal mess, but I have some big mental barriers, too. It’s just not fun anymore. Mountain bike racing. I don’t like how it hurts. I had so many thoughts during this race about how I could instantly walk away from the sport and not look back.
I finished in 4 hours 57 minutes. About 90 minutes back from the winner of my category. OMG. But I finished! It’s honestly a race that is not easy to DNF at if you don’t know the area and roads and how to get back to Breck. The easiest way for me was to just follow the course. And this, friends, is why I like single loop endurance racing 🙂
I got 2nd in Cat 1 30-39 women. If I was in pro, I would’ve gotten 2nd and a payout. But alas, no pro license anymore… Much to my utter surprise, I pulled off 2nd place in the Colorado XC Mountain Bike State Championship series with my points from this race. My podium photo made me laugh as I was not prepared for that. Made me happy, though getting 2nd for racing 1 out of the 3 races is a debatable accomplishment. But hey, I showed up on a hard ass road race mountain bike course and finished, which broke the tie with 3rd place and I as this was a higher ranked race.
I have two MTB races left for the year… LMBS tomorrow night (might be a likely DNF due to the fact I can barely walk my legs are so sore from Breck 32 + a quadruple 14er hike the next day) and Laramie Enduro in two weeks. I’m kinda sad the season/summer slipped by so fast, but also kind of relieved my attention can turn to cyclocross shenanigans when I back from Iceland.
As always, my nutrition for Breck 32:
700-800 calories of Tailwind Nutrition naked and green tea endurance fuel
2- Clif banana pouches (which I discovered to my horror have been discontinued and these were my last two… *cries dramatically*)
8 oz of water
I filled the 2L bladder at the second aid station, diluting the bit of Tailwind I had left.
Bad ideas are born from insomnia at 11:30pm. Like signing up for 8 hour solo races as you’re recovering from having organs removed from your body.
But… there I was driving up to Casper on June 22nd, the night before the Bear Bait 8, to give it a go. A week prior I had inquired about dropping down into the 4 hour category (which I would’ve been competitive in), and Christy Olsen convinced me to stay in the 8 hour category. You know… I haven’t decided what’s worse: chasing Georgia Gould in a race, or chasing Christy Olsen in a race, but there I was… remaining in the 8 hour. Dammit.
Luckily pulling into the venue area in search of camping I ran into Tracy and Nick Thelen, who invited me to crash their parking lot car camping party. It was nice to have people to chatter with, and it was intriguing watching them map out their duo race. They’re quite the badass duo when it comes to these races, so it was nice to observe the strategies and preparation. Tracy was also the latest 24 hour mountain bike national champion, so she knows a thing or two about riding a bike for a long time. I mostly know how to toodle along in the woods, crash into things, and how to make one hell of a bed in the back of my car.
Race morning came after a surprisingly good night of sleep in my Subaru Forester. It was chilly, but not cold… refreshing if anything. I hate riding/racing/anything in the heat, so I welcomed the forecast predicting highs in the 60s. Amelia Meyer (who I raced at the Tatanka last year) bumped up to the 8 hour solo female category, meaning at least there would be three of us for a full podium. I had never been on a bike for 8 hours, and didn’t really know how things would go as it was my 4th race in a 7 day period, and my body is still figure out what the hell is going on. I set a goal of 6 laps for myself. I knew I could never challenge Christy even on her worse day and my best day, and that my lack of training and time on the bike all spring was making me pay the price, so personal goal setting is where I was at for this race.
1st Lap: Was Awful. My legs screamed and I quickly got discouraged at my lack of ability to climb anymore and how my bike tires feel like they’re filled with concrete. But I settled in, just paying attention and learning the course. I’ve only raced on Casper Mountain once before in 2015 at the AMBC, but knew they added in new trails. The trails were still damp, and the tree roots slick. I got taken out suddenly by a diagonal one that caught my rear wheel and was thrown left knee first into a stump. I actually let myself cry, which I normally don’t do while actually racing. That’s it, I was done. I’m riding back to my car and driving back home and pouting. I hate Casper, I hate mountain bike races, and I hate being slow. Yay pity party in the woods!
2nd Lap: Well, clearly I didn’t drive back home. I continued on. The 58 minutes of the first lap allowed my legs to kinda warm up and I fell into a better groove. Then I just started getting silly. The trees/scenery in parts remind me of footage I’ve seen from the Nove Mesto World Cup in the Czech Republic. So there I was, giggling in the woods thinking about Jaroslav Kulhavy appearing out of the trees, wearing a gnome hat and confessing his love to me in Czech… which I can’t understand, so how would I know it was words of love?! I digress… then Peter Sagan would roll up and say, “Heidi, let’s do donuts!” Yes, this is what was going through my mind while “racing” my bike. It kept me entertained this entire lap. Which was good… it got me in mentally better spirits. Crazy, maybe. But it worked. I’d giggle about it the rest of the day.
3rd Lap: This lap I then started daydreaming that I was leading a World Cup race. Ha! I knew I would take a break in the pits after this lap to refill and snack, so it was mostly about getting through it.
I took a break, and ate a pizza Lunchable and drank half of a Pepsi. I don’t drink soda normally, but it is so delightful in the middle of an endurance race. I refilled my Camelbak, as I had drank 2 liters of Tailwind Nutrition mix of lemon and green tea flavors.
4th Lap: Onward! I just wanted to keep pushing to hopefully meet my goal. I would stop at the port-a-pottie before coming through the timing line to pee. I normally never ever pee during races. But today was definitely more about surviving then racing. And it beat going in the woods.
5th Lap: Yes, second to last lap, I told myself. I knew 7 laps was quite possible. But 6 was the goal. Into the Czech-wannabe gnome woods, out into the sage brush of Wyoming… into the gnome woods, out into Wyoming. The course seemed to be flying by as I really knew it by now. I applied some Squirt barrier balm that I found a sample of in my Camelbak to my palms which were chaffing and wanting to blister. What a weird substance. I think I’ll definitely stick to Chamois Butt’r for my chamois area bits, but the Squirt stuff worked in a pinch on my poor palms.
I stopped for another break at my pits to check my Camelbak. It was still decently full, so I ate one cracker sandwich from another Lunchable and set out. My back badly needed stretched out, too.
6th Lap: It had begun to rain as the afternoon wore on, and I knew to start playing it safe on the rocks and roots again. I told someone it was my last lap, and he told me I should really do 7. Sigh. I’ll see how it goes. Luckily it only appeared to have rained on half the course, leaving the part with a ton of roots, logs to ride over, and rocks, mostly dry. As I approached a narrow part between two trees, I lost focus and punched another tree at speed with my right hand. I stopped and whined as feeling left my poor right pinky finger. Grrr… I wrapped it around my bars and continued on.
7th Lap: I had plenty of time before the 4pm cut off to set out on lap 7 at 2:45pm, so there I was… beating my goal of 6 laps without even really hesitating as I crossed the line. I actually felt a bit more energy for this lap, though the rain had started to fall steady (and temps dropped into the 40s), and I felt like I was all alone out there in the gnome woods. I was trudging up a hill when the solo men’s leader passed me, scaring the crap out of me as he approached suddenly. It’d happen again. My bike’s chain was making all sorts of noise, so these quiet riders were way too sneaky! The rain soaked the entire course, making things rather slippery. Since I already had a bloody knee and battered pinky finger, I ended up walking some of the log features for my own safety, and stared intently at the trail for roots waiting to take me out. I couldn’t tell if I felt hungry, but just kept moving. I actually managed to big chain ring the final climb, which I hadn’t done all day, and the sun poked out as I neared the finish…
…And I came through at 3:58pm. Technically, I could’ve gone out for an 8th lap. I probably would have if I knew how much Tailwind I had left in my Camelbak, or had a time for another solid food snack. But by then I had been on my bike for 51.8 miles and 7 hours 58 minutes, so I felt plenty accomplished!
Upon removing my right glove I discovered a bloody and blue pink finger that had swollen up so much I could barely bend it. I actually had forgotten about punching a tree on lap 6, with adrenaline erasing that short term memory. I was concerned, but not enough to really care, and stumbled over to my chair to gather my pit belongings… which I insisted on trudging back to the car with my bike in one single load. It was like hauling groceries in when I carry all 20 bags at once… I was hoping someone would offer some help, but they didn’t. Grr. Don’t worry, I’ve only been riding my bike 8 hours, I got this load of a mountain bike, cooler, bag full of gallons of water and Tailwind powder, chair, Camelbak, and clothing bag all by myself! Ha!
My effort was good enough for 3rd place in our 3 woman field, LOL! But hey, it was mostly about racing for my own personal goals. I had never done a lap-endurance format before as a solo, only as a 4 person team and duo, so this was something new to try. I bettered my goal by one additional lap to boot. Luckily the trails on Casper Mountain are super awesome, though tough (it always seems like you’re climbing, even if you’re descending). That made it all the more better. I’ve done some terrible endurance races for 50-60 miles (like Battle the Bear… what’s with races named after bears?!) with awful courses that are boring and/or exposed, so suffering with a fun to ride course is just better. And, Strava gifted me with the knowledge that on several trails my times from this race in 2018 were much faster than times during my cat 1 race in 2015 when I was fit, 30 pounds lighter, and only racing a couple of hours! Woohoo! Always nice to see skills improvement, especially on the descending.
7 laps @ 51.8 miles
5,636 feet of climbing
7 hours 58 minutes 18 seconds total
Breakfast: 1 cinnamon raisin bagel with plain cream cheese, banana
4 liters of Tailwind Nutrition
1st round: The rest of my lemon bag with 2 scoops of green tea (hoping that was about 700 calories)
2nd round: 4 scoops of naked, 3 scoops of green tea (700 calories)
1 bottle of Pepsi
1 pepperoni pizza Lunchable
1 sandwich (cracker + turkey + cheese) from a Lunchable
Nutritionally, I felt great during this race. Tailwind kept me going, and the Lunchable and Pepsi were just comfort foods as I was sitting down for my break. I’ve never tried to use Tailwind on this long of a ride before and had it work successfully (last attempt was the Leadville 100 in 2015, and that was before I really had my formula of Tailwind down and had squandered the “omg, I must eat food, too!” notion). I did switch it up, and use a non-caffeinated flavor as my main flavor. I think too much caffeine leads me to getting really weird during races. Not that imagining Jaroslav Kulhavy in a gnome hat isn’t weird… but I didn’t need to see where that daydream would’ve gone if I was running a straight caffeinated mix!
I definitely can see myself returning to this race next year, and even continuing on racing it as a solo! Now that I’ve done both a duo and a solo, I can confirm the rumors I’ve heard that duos are harder. They are. At least with going solo my legs never have a decent break to allow the lactic acid and fatigue to build up. Solo keeps them spinning. And it’s nice to know I’m solely responsible for myself and my result.
Next up is some recovery. My form is at -69 right now, which is comical as I tend to race best around +2-10. I’m not really sure I will attempt LMBS #2 this week, as I think it’s just too much and I need some recovery from weeks of trying to cram in fitness. My next big race is the Breck-32 in mid-July, and then the Laramie Enduro at the end of July.
Well here’s a start line, let alone a finish line, I wasn’t really sure I’d make!
I got back on my bike post-op day 17 from my big surgery, and took things slow and easy and realized how quickly I lost fitness, but also core strength. I had the refund deadline on my calendar, and debated back and forth if starting my fourth Gunnison Half Growler would be a good idea. Finally I decided the best idea would be to give it a try… 5 weeks after surgery. Yeah, don’t tell my surgeon…
This year I was unsure if I could get Friday off from work to make it to the Saturday rendition of the Half Growler, so I signed up for Sunday’s “late bus” offering, which I heard is actually a lot chiller and more fun.
Sunday’s version is indeed a lot more chill! The neutral roll out, which I’m use to burning a match or two to stay at the 20+mph pace in the peloton, was in fact a lot more neutral, and served as a good warm up. Kill Hill was painful as ever, and I started in on successfully going backwards through the field all day. But racing wasn’t my goal, my goal was to finish, however long that took!
This being my third time racing the course in this direction, more and more of the rock features are rideable to me since I’ve had a chance to see their line. Definitely nice, as my technical skills remind intact… however, sometimes the lack of strength and fitness meant I had issues with uphill technical features. I only had one “crash” and it was on an uphill rock face where I just ran out of steam and stalled out, and luckily there was a tree there to catch my fall. Which left me awkwardly stuck on my bike, leaning onto a tree at a 45 degree angle. Thankfully there were two other girls nearby to assist me. Whoops! I’ve never been ashamed of walking, so walking I did when I thought I had to, or if a feature was beyond my abilities at the moment! Including some non-technical climbs that I simply didn’t have the lungs for this year. But overall I was feeling good, apart from my usual 15 minutes in “I wanna quit” thoughts, which soon faded.
About the time of Skull Pass I started traded spots with a 16 year old racer, which was actually nice for the distraction. She had amazing descending skills, and I’d get her on the climbs. Back and forth we went! This year I remembered my dropper post on Skull Pass, and rode what seemed to be a lot more of it this year.
The course was dry, sandy, loose, and dusty this year, which made me think my tires were constantly flat, and made me miss the year of mud. Or just a good rain the night before to pack things down. With a 7am start I wore arm warmers and a thin base layer. Arm warmers I yanked off within the first hour, and by mile 24 I decided to stop and take off my base layer and dump another Tailwind stick in my refilled camelback. Imagine that, stopping to wardrobe change during a race! Who was I?! (Honestly, quite weird to do this race NOT wearing a thermal jersey, like previous years)
Overall, I was really positive mentally during this race. I just felt so lucky to be even riding my bike that I didn’t care that I was going a lot slower than my previous three times. Even on Ridge (a trail I will always hate), where I decided to walk a hefty amount, I knew the finish was coming and I just had to keep moving forward. And that I did, crossing the finish line at 4 hours 57 minutes! Woo hoo! I had given myself a goal of 6 hours, so needless to say I smashed that goal… and was only 23 minutes slower than my next slowest time. 23 minutes I don’t think is a huge amount honestly with all my extra circumstances coming into play this year!
Oh, and the pro men in the Full Growler race never lapped me! Victory! I think I had 21 minutes on Dave Wiens, ha! Though I was thinking several times during my race, “Where in the world is Kalan Beisel?”
Nutritionally, things worked great. I had worried about the longer time on course impacting my nutrition, but was able to pace things well. I started with a 2 liter camelback with 7 scoops (700 calories) of Tailwind Nutrition green tea and lemon flavors mixed in. At the halfway point at the Skull Pass aid station I had them top off the water, and later added another 2 scoops (200 calories) of naked Tailwind. I also ate half a pickle slice and one Clif banana pouch. I only drank about half of a 16oz bottle of plain water. Sadly no aid stations had coke this year 😦
I was pleased to discover after the race that I felt no worse than I had in 2015-2017, and happily rode back to the start line to discover there’s no finisher prizes for this year, but still free beer.
There is just something about this race that keeps bringing me back to Gunnison year after year, so of course on December 1st I’ll be registering for my fifth Half Growler! Now that I have experienced it both on Saturday and Sunday, I will be torn on which day to register for. I liked the more chill neutral roll out for sure. We shall see! Just happy to be back on my bike, and “racing” and rebuilding.
Pretty much the story goes… 9Seventy Racing helps volunteer at event, so since I had to be there anyway for a few hours… why not also “race” my bike a few hours?!
I haven’t ridden more than 20 miles on my road bike since July
I had ridden my road bike exactly two times outdoors since October
Training… what the heck is “training?”
I’m actually quite a fan of the little Cobb Lake circuit course they put together, so I figured why not… if anything it would be a hard training ride, and since it’s an open category race for the women, it’s not like I ever have a chance at good results when roadie pros are coming out to it. I did my first outdoor road ride of 2018 a handful of days before the race, and the bike seemed ok.
Just like in 2014, I stayed with the main pack until the first trip down the dirt segment, and then bye bye bye majority of the field. ‘Tis cool… they probably train. LOL! I ended up working with three other girls for the next four laps. There was a stiff wind from the south, so it was great to have bodies to hide behind. It was tough… I found the dirt segment to take the most from me, as it was stupidly rough and it was hard finding that perfect gear to ride in. Going up the climb to start the 5th lap I lost contact with two of the stronger chicks I was working with, so I got to do the lonely TT of soft pedaling shame for the last lap. It wasn’t bad, almost felt like recovery, woo hoo!
I would finish 24th, in something like 2 hours 12 minutes. I do believe that is faster than my 2014 time, so victory for me!
Hey, I showed up, I pinned on the number, and I gave it what I had to give. I really can’t complain! 🙂
I don’t have a lot to say… honestly. Weird for my race reports, but road races tend to have less of the weirdness and thoughts that mountain bike racing has. Most of the race I was just focused on my very sore sitz bones that haven’t been on a road bike for hours in a long time, and the weird clicking from my bottom bracket.
And… thanks to Tailwind Rebuild, I didn’t have soreness the next day and actually CRUSHED my trainer recovery ride! Nothing like crushing 30 minutes at 115 watts 😉
Last year at the Tatanka point to point race in Sturgis, SD I had a breakthrough race where I learned that 1) I can race a bike longer than 90 minutes, and 2) Heat doesn’t automatically kill me. I had an amazing time riding really awesome trails. So earlier this summer I decided to throw my hat into the race again.
Then I started to get hesitant…
It was suppose to be mid-90s. I haven’t been riding a lot. My right knee exploded on a road century attempt. And the realization that because I did so well last year, I had personal expectations to do even better. But what if I couldn’t?! Argh.
So I packed up and headed up to Sturgis, about 4:40 of a drive on Friday morning. The drive actually really wore me down, and my right knee was aching anytime I couldn’t use cruise control. Great, not even riding a bike yet and I’m in pain! I picked up my packet once I got into town, and asked to see the start list. I only recognize Jen Toops’ name (strong endurance pro from Ohio who I think is leading the NUE marathon series), and noted the lack of Colorado pro racers. Shoot, now I really have to race as I might have a chance! I thought… to my dismay. I don’t know, it’s easier to know you won’t podium because the field is stacked deep with legit full-time pros.
Drove up to Hog Heaven and grabbed the spot I wanted since last year… nice and shady and down in the trees. I set up camp, and took to staring at my bike, hoping it would do my race openers for me. Finally I kitted up and headed out into the 90 degree sun. Surprisingly, I felt really good. I hadn’t ridden since Tuesday due to the heat, but legs felt peppy. I ended up doing some hill repeats and riding 7 miles in the campground. Hmm… so I felt good. Time to see what the morning would bring!
Thanks to my shady spot, I managed to sleep in longer than last year, waking up at 6:44am, and then dozing on and off until 8am. I was going to ride down to the shuttle pick up with another gal I met at the campground named Cindy, who was racing in her 3rd ever mountain bike race! I ran and got my egg white McMuffin from McDonalds, and enjoyed an earlier breakfast than last year, and drank lots of water and a bottle with a Fizz tablet in it to get loaded up on electrolytes. At 10am we left for the downhill cruise to load up our bikes and wait for the shuttle to Piedmont. On the shuttle ride I choked down a PB&J Bonk Breaker bar, and another bottle of water. Here goes nothing…
The organization of the start was smoother this year, and we didn’t have to stand as long on the hot pavement, though I watched my Garmin creep up to 100 degrees. The start was completely different this year with no Karen Jarchow and Alex Pond to blast off the line, and I found myself and Jen leading out with some men on the “neutral” pavement part. Last year I was out of breathe and dropped hard on this part, but felt strong this year and as we turned onto the Dalton Creek gravel road climb to the start of the single track. Jen was riding strong and hanging onto the wheels of the men in front of her, and I tried my best to stick with her, but found myself gapped. I grappled in my head on if I was going out too hard, but eventually said F it, go hard, see what happens. I won’t lie, I had pictured a podium finish in my mind, so I decided to just go for it.
Single track went well, and unlike the previous year I cleared the first few rock gardens. Suddenly there was a fork in the trail and the guy in front of me that was off his bike yelled “they’re going the wrong way, this is the right way!” So I followed him, thankful he pointed that out. At this point I was in first, but it wouldn’t take long before Jen would be back on course and powering past me. I just concentrated on settling into my pace, which was hard, but not balls to the wall. One of the guys behind me was overheard saying “We have an engine pulling us!”
Due to logging in the area, the first aid station came about a mile sooner, about 5 miles in, and instead of jumping onto the single track of the Centennial Trail, we started a very long grindy fire road climb out of the aid station. I wasn’t going to stop but a cup of cold water tempted me, which I took a sip and then dumped on me. No time to waste and I set out grinding up the dirt road in the hot sun. In a way this change was nice, as I could just settle into a rhythm without worrying about rocks and roots and sharp changes in gradient. We eventually turned off into primitive single track that was overgrown and rough, and I just lightly spun. After that trail we spit out onto another road climb which was covered with cat head sized rocks where were awful to ride out. I started swearing and decided the race promoters must hate us.
Surprisingly, when we re-joined the Centennial Trail I realized we were a lot further down the course that I thought, and set up for the first big descent of the day… steep, lose, with tight switchbacks at the most unfortunate moments. Immediately my handling skills felt off and I couldn’t get in a good grove with my bike, so I knew I wasn’t descending as fast as I could and definitely not as smoothly. But I made it without incidence, and start plodding back uphill when the descent ended. I was kinda of shocked at how fast the course was flying by due to the change in the earlier parts and soon I found myself down in the creek bed jungle, which they had politely trimmed back this year, so visibility was a lot better and the poison ivy a little further away from human contact. I had one near crash as I haphazardly left the trail but saved it with a quick unclipping and change in my balance. The creek beds were dry this year, and not as slippery, so I rode more of them than last year.
After the longest mile ever, I plopped out at the final aid station, where a kid immediately put an iced bandana on my neck and other volunteers set to refilling my camelback, getting me Coke, filling my bottle, and feeding me watermelon. Someone let me know I was the second women in, which I nodded in agreement. I knew exactly where I was, and I knew I couldn’t get too comfortable off the bike for too long as I had no idea the gap back to the third. With my pack back on, bottle filled with cold water, and a big glob of ice down the back of my jersey, I set out for the last 20 miles.
The climbs out of the aid station are a bit heart breaking, but I plodded on, happy to have the stinging pain of frozen skin on my back from the ice and knowing there were some serious descents coming up. Last year I had some pretty serious cloud cover at this point which helped out mentally and physically, but this year was nothing but hot sun and blue skies. On the first long descent I started catching sprint and kid racers, which was a little hairy due to the speeds I would come up on them. Luckily everyone was great with moving aside! Down down down… aching feet and sore hands as they chaffed with my wet gloves. I never wanted the descending to be over so much in my life! Finally the climb up Bulldog arrived. Last year I was quite proud of myself for clearing the 13% average climb, but I rode maybe the first third of it this year and jumped off and walked. Walking kinda felt good, and I really had nothing to prove by riding it!
Bulldog descent went ok. I took it cautiously, knowing it would be easy to lose my podium place or the whole race by getting too ballsy on the descent. Plopping out into the meadow felt great… until I went off course. Because it is not the Tatanka MTB Race if you’re actually staying on course (Everyone I talked to this year went off course at least once… course markings can be… not great). I saw a bunch of white streamers marking a turn onto single track so I grabbed the brakes and turned onto it. Luckily it didn’t take me long to realize it was not leading me under I-90 properly, so I turned around and hauled ass back to the Centennial Trail, pissed off at myself for turning off. Under I-90… yay!
Well, not yay. They changed the end of the course from the Ft. Meade trails of last year, which weren’t that bad, to a newly re-vamped section of the Centennial Trail. I really had no idea what to expect, but I was expecting something similar to last year. Oh no, oh no… why would it be like that? I was not prepared for the long climb to follow on moondust, which made traction hard and killed my willpower so I just started walking the climbs. I swore more, especially every time I rounded a corner and saw the trail continuing up. Dammit dammit dammit, this isn’t want I was wanting! The sun was hot an this section was very exposed. There was some descending before a steep climb up and then double track climb. OMG it’s never ending! I was sad I watched the time click away, nothing I wouldn’t impressively beat last year’s time with the new course changes.
Some of the descents on this section were just stupid with 6-12″ of powdery mood dust to suck in your front tires. When will this be over? Another super fast descent… to another climb. ARGHHH… but wait… bike path up ahead! YESSS! Luckily I was warned by another racer who rode several miles in the wrong direction on how to properly get on the bike path (once again, kinda sketchy course marking) and settled in for a few miles of being a roadie. Glances over my should assured that no one was close, and legs felt good enough that I knew I could throw in a sprint if I had to, but I was happy that I wouldn’t have to. The finish line was about .75 mile further down the path from last year, which added insult to injury to entire section after crossing under I-90.
4 hours 30 minutes. Done and done! Best marathon MTB finish and first NUE podium!
And I still beat last year’s time by 4 minutes even with the last bit of Centennial Trail moon dust madness!
I just might have to come back next year and hope I can win another buffalo 😀
2 liters with 6 scoops of Tailwind green tea caffeinated endurance fuel and 1.5 scoops of lemon endurance fuel with water topped in it at the aid station. Had 1 liter left at the finish of the watered down mixture. One slice of watermelon. Two 22oz bottles of plain water. Cup of Coke.
Mistakes: No sunscreen on my face. No chamois butter on my hands to prevent my gloves from chaffing. Also forgot a stick of Tailwind to dump on at the refill. I don’t have my crap together when it comes to bike racing this year really!
2017 marked my third time racing the Half Growler in Gunnison, CO. Great but challenging course and great little town just keeps bringing me back for more… even after all the mud of 2015! This year I was hoping to break the 4 hour marked since I came within 4 minutes of that last year. Easier said than done! Odd years marked a clockwise course, which is supposedly “easier.” They changed up the course a bit, taking out the long powerline road descent to pavement, and added in a lot more single track near the end.
Friday I did a short 10 mile ride to wake my legs up, and they just didn’t want to wake up. I didn’t get too concerned, as I’ve had pre-ride days of feeling like crap and then having good races. I was able to sleep fairly well and woke up about 7-ish to get ready. Like the two prior years, I struggled with figuring out what to wear, settling on a stretchy long sleeve base layer under my jersey, and big wool socks.
The neutral start managed to have a crash on the pavement that I avoided. The “neutral my ass” start was a lot faster and everyone strung out really quickly. That, or I was just a lot slower. Kill Hill went ok, and then started a long, double track grind of a few miles or so to the single track. I think that’s why I don’t like the clockwise direction… going counterclockwise we descended rather quickly after Kill Hill, which I think gave some recovery. On the doubletrack I watched myself go backwards through the field, and kinda settled in mentally of just surviving.
It was great to enjoy this direction without all the mud, hail, and rain of 2015! It was going by fast, especially when I realized it was time to climb to the highest point of the race and then descend to the biggest aid station at Skull Pass. I felt like I was riding pretty well technically, riding some stuff that more familiar with, but still walking some stuff that I felt like wasn’t worth the risk. I would even go off some drop on Skull Pass and feel my saddle hit my stomach, which is always an eery feeling (oh yeah, what dropper post? That damn thing I keep forgetting to use…). I had forgotten to lube my chain before the race, so I was being treated by the Song of My Chain’s People, which was getting rather irritating.
At the aid station I stopped to fill my water bottle and eat half a banana. Filling my bottle took way longer than expected, but I was on my way… until I saw a mechanic set up, who threw my bike up on his stand and slathered it in gooey thick glorious chain lube. “Thanks, now I’ll be able to hear my thoughts,” I told him, to which he replied, “Are you sure that’s a good thing?”
He was probably onto something.
The descent down and out of Enchanted Forest went well, and I found course traffic to be considerably thinned, but I continued to go backwards as people caught and passed me. I knew my goal time of 3:59 was busted, and just settled in to survive. My bike handling was getting messy, and at times I even struggled to get on and off my bike. My legs felt so incredibly dead, but then again, maybe I was just thinking they were dead. On and on I pedaled. At first it seemed like the weather would unleash it’s wrath, but luckily Michelle protected us all by putting on her rain jacket, and the sky cleared up! The wind did kick up, and it could get a bit much on some of the high ridges. Came across a Coke aid station, and the lady told me 4 miles, and I made her swear that she wasn’t lying and we all had a good chuckle. With the new single track out of the way, I knew it was one long grind up a hill, descent down, and then all the Ridge trail nonsense and then the finish would be near.
Ridge actually went a little quicker than 2015, but I walked a lot. I’m weird with exposure and cliffs, and with my noodle arms it was better. I was so happy to hit Tail Pipe, as I knew the finish was so soon! I followed a guy up Tail Pipe with another girl behind me. As we hit the small bit of road that leads to Collarbone Alley I sized them up, and decided that I had been riding for 35 miles, and dammit, nothing was going to damper my fun on what has become a favorite short trail of mine! So I downshifted and passed them before, hit the dropper, and told the guys directing me onto the trail “This is my favorite part, I’m not missing it!” to which they cheered.
4 hours and 22 minutes.
Done to my relief.
Then I heard the announcer say I placed 4th in pro women and I started crying. Because it ain’t an endurance race without some sort of crying!
(Turns out Karen was mis-classed into age group, so I would officially be placed 5th when they moved her into pro. DFL, just like last year, by over an hour. But hey, I beat the girl who registered but was a DNS!)
I won’t lie, I’m disappointed I didn’t meet my time goal and I don’t really have an excuse. My body just didn’t show up to this race. But I did finish my third Half Growler, which isn’t too shabby! Initially I said “Oh hell no, it’s time to find another Memorial Weekend activity,” but by the next day I was thinking it’s time to plan for next year, which very well might be the direction that suits me a bit better! (Rumor has it they might stop reversing the course direction every year, though…) I do notice small things that help, like more confidence descending and I feel like I did well holding my descending form throughout the whole race.
It’s great, because every since the race my legs and body have been on fire and I’ve been riding strong. Thanks, body. Love you right back…
Breakfast – Egg White McMuffin, hash brown, medium Hi-C Orange
During Race – 2 liter Camelback with 2 scoops of Tailwind Green Tea Caffeinated Endurance Fuel and 5 scoops of Tailwind Lemon Endurance Fuel, half banana, 6 ounce can of Coke, 30-ish ounces of plain water
I drank 1.5 liters out of my Camelback. Which beats last year, where I drained maybe only two inches out of it. Nutritionally, I felt well fueled and hydrated! Mixing the two flavors and types of Tailwind I thought was great, as I got a small bit of caffeine but not the crazy amount I usually consume when I do straight caffeinated mixes (which I think contributes to late race hallucinations I’ll have of cats and gnomes… or maybe that just happens when I race in South Dakota). Lemon and green tea mixed well together flavor wise. I think I’ll experiment more with mixing.
So come December 1st, I think I’ll be giving it a 4th go at the Half Growler… eventually I’ll break 4 hours, right?