AKA one of the hardest days on a bike ever for me.
I had registered for the 60 mile again this year, but after CO2UT went well, I decide to ask to go up to the 100. Communication was a bit… nonexistent, but I got the ok a few days before packet pick up from the promoters. Still with no confirmation that it was actually real, it was not until I picked up my packet if I knew I was a sure go for the 100. I was, and suddenly there was no turning back! My reasoning went two ways: it was going to be a hard day regardless – the 60 was stacked with fast women which meant I’d have to hammer for 3.5 hours, and the 100 is just hard.
I’ve done the 40, won the 60, I guess time to survive the 100?
It was setting up to be a hot one (in the 90s), and if there is one thing that is my kryptonite, it is heat. With fifteen women registered I set a goal for top 10, and decided I’d be super excited if I pull off a top 5, as it was not just about heat… the course has nearly 10,000 feet of climbing.
The first stretch of pavement miles were okay and chill, but I popped off the lead group on the second gravel hill after I saw 400 watts and realized I could not sustained. Mile 9 and I was already disheartened and not having a good day. I kind of kicked myself for not riding my own race and trying to stay with that group, but alas there was nothing I could do at that moment. Suddenly I heard “There’s my friend Heidi!” and Emil rode up with a few of his teammates so I was able to ride the “Feedback Train” until Red Grade, which was good company.
Oh Red Grade… the stupid hill/mountain/death march you are. Steep paved grind, even steeper gravel BS until the singletrack trails which are suppose to be a reprieve, but aside from shade I think I said a cuss word at every switchback. Then it was time for more stupid gravel BS, culminating at a point I was walking my bike with about ten others as my silly carbon soled “gravel” shoes rubbed blisters in my heels.
So… why do I do this?
Red Grade brings out a lot of chances to think over your life choices. It was a pensive day for me.
Once you’re to the “top,” it really doesn’t stop with continuous up and down terrain. My baby gear and I made best friends. I drank, I ate, I yelled cuss words. The only good thing is it was clouded and the elevation made temps a bit cooler.
Then the descents started, and I learned I was probably beyond the capabilities of my brakes a good chunk of the time on the eroded, rutted, sandy forest road downhills of death. I caught my friend Leeann and rode out of the sketchiest line ever that made my body do one huge pucker as she shouted something about this being “my thing” (well, I am a mountain biker, but I do prefer 100mm of front travel and brakes that aren’t road style levers with big rotors normally). My hands would seize up and I’d take a quick moment every so often to shake out one hand, hoping those few seconds wouldn’t cause me to lose control. It was never ending. Throw in a Land Rover Defender climbing one of the narrow two tracks, and it just spelled a fun adventure!
But soon I knew I’d be off the damn mountain I was on when I saw the knee deep creek crossing, where I took the chance to pop my feet out of my shoes for a quick massage before hiking my bike up a sandbox of a hill. So again, why I am doing this?!
Then it was time for one of scariest descents of my life thanks to road conditions and dirt bikers/ATVs not amused some cyclists were ruining their day. I made it safely and partially reckless to the singletrack descent, where I learned my gravel bike cannot corner like my mountain bike on downhill switchbacks and landed 6th on the Strava leaderboard (yes, I am crazy…). Time to finish bombing off Red Grade, which can kiss my butt. I never want to see that road ever again in my life. Not even in my Fozzy.
I stopped at the aid station in Big Horn as by now I was nearly 5 hours in and had drained my camelback. Unfortunately the aid station volunteer didn’t really like fill it up at all, but it is what it is, and I took off to ride solo the rest of the day on the course I’ve raced a few times over. Except I wouldn’t call what I was doing this day a race.
Soon the foot pain increased, and on three separate occasions I cried while pedaling because my feet hurt so bad. I ended up loosening my shoes all the way up and pedaled like that for ten miles or so (can’t say it really helped). By now it was solidly in the 90s and the last 46 miles of the course would be in full Wyoming sunshine. Oh, and no wind because hey, we didn’t need wind in Wyoming on this day…
I stopped again in Dayton at the aid station for a cup of cold water and a few baggies of fruit snacks and another handful of Endurolytes, and explained how cycling shoes worked to the volunteer and tried to push the pain out of my mind. The stretch from Dayton to the “bacon station” is always the worse part of the course, and as I was catching 40/60 milers, I could tell a lot of people were in a bad way in the heat – waiting for rides, getting picked up, calling people, just walking. I debated jumping into an irrigation ditch or the river when I’d see it, but I also really wanted to get this damn race over with. When I hit the 6 hour mark (whenever that was, probably way before Dayton) I got really annoyed as CO2UT was barely over 6 hours total with 3 extra miles (and half the climbing, ha).
I stopped again, this time at the Bacon Station for another cup of cold water before enjoying the descent and final ten miles. “Enjoying” being a loose term. I tried to do some math on if I could beat 8 hours, but math has never been my strong thing. I ignored the goose bumps on my legs, and the wonky feeling in my stomach and just tried to pedal as hard as I could at 120 watts. Total wattage cottage happening this day…
Finally there was the final climb, which does seem easy after Red Grade. I can’t believe I thought it was so bad the year I did the 40 mile course. It is cake! Down the pavement, through the neighborhoods, avoiding getting T-boned by a horse (so many horses on the bike path…), down the hill to the finish, where of course a woman tried to walk out in front of me… and in typical Heidi fashion, on a day where I pretty much stayed in my granny gear, I sprinted…
96.7 miles, 9668 feet of climbing, 7 hours 51 minutes. 5th place overall women (3rd in 30-39… but there were no age groups this year).
I immediately started crying and yanked the Shimano gravel shoes off my feet and threw them down before I was out of the little finishing corral. Then I laid down and cried some more.
Never. Again. Never.
I’m proud I finished the 100. Two years ago in 2019 when I did the 40 I would’ve never imagined doing the 100. It’s a freaking hard race, and the heat only made things about 500000 times worse. Twenty degrees cooler and I would’ve had a much different race I think (may I point out Sunday’s high was projected to be 79……… *!?/swear words). But it is one for sure I am completely okay with calling “one and done.” Been there, done that. I can think of better ways to earn drinking ale from curved horns in the halls of Valhalla than a Viking themed 100 mile gravel race.
Two more weeks and I get to play in the 90 degree heat again at Robidoux Quick & Dirty. Here’s to hoping that is a much faster day (I’ll revel in the fact it has half of the climbing!)
Random facts & numbers:
7 SIS gels, 1 Uncrustable, 2 child size packets of gummy fruit snacks
24oz bottle of orange Tailwind Endurance Fuel
12oz Nunn sport mix
8 Endurolyte tablets
12oz of Gatorade
1 blistered heel
1 empty Cameback way too soon after it was refilled
1 massive polo ranch
Lots of beautiful mountains
12.5mph average speed
1 girl riding a horse while standing on its saddle at the finish line (confirmed it was not a hallucination)
1 shout out to Nick, who asked “Are you THE Heidi, as in heidiridesbikes?” and asked to take a photo with me!
They say the third time is a charm, and indeed CO2UT happened on the third race date it was scheduled for. In full disclosure, I registered for the race because it had a dinosaur theme, and I’m a six year old at heart and dinosaurs are one of the best things ever – AND – it was an excuse to get back to the desert after three too many years away. I decided to bite the bullet and register for the “Triceratops” course, which was 100 miles. When I registered for this in the spring of 2020 I had yet to even race a 60 mile gravel race, let alone 100, but the triceratops is Wyoming’s state dinosaur so it only seemed logical.
The problem with first year races is I can’t look at finishing times, so I had a year to fret about what racing 100 miles in the desert would seem like (or just racing 100 miles in general). Luckily Morgan, the race director, gave some helpful information that he expected the average pace for the 100’s to be 12mph, so I could plan nutrition. But other than that I was kind of in the dark, which was tough. I did 103 miles with a few friends earlier in the spring on the road bike and was feeling feisty and powerful til the end, but the ride also involved pie, green chili fries, soup, and tacos – none of which were available at CO2UT.
16 gels in my bag, 1.5L of water in the Camelback, and bike all lubed and ready… and it was race morning on May 22nd. I awoke in the strangest mindset. I mean, it was BIZARRE. So normally my method of speaking about racing is I have to race XXX miles this weekend, ugh. Which is silly, I don’t HAVE to do anything bicycle related – racing bikes is not my job, and honestly it is quite the first world privilege to be able to just take off of work and go tootle around the desert for a few hours for no other reason than I paid money to. So, strangely enough, I awoke to the though of YAY, I get to ride my bike for 100 miles today!! Okay Heidi, what did you do with Heidi?
My friend and training buddy, Tom, offered to drive me down to the race start since he was injured and unable to race. While waiting for my start time, my friend and teammate, Sarah, rode by, who was already suppose to be racing. She had some mechanicals, so luckily they said she could start with the 100 mile racers (she was in the 75 mile race… yes, CO2UT starts the 75’s before the 100’s). We lined up and soon we were off on 7 miles of neutral pavement. Racing would start when we hit the gravel on 18 Road (and end there, too… no racing on pavement aside from one half mile stretch or so at miles 20 and 70). It was nice to have Sarah in the pack as I trust her wheel and I could nervously chat away race nerves.
Sarah and I did our work to get into the front-ish group, avoiding the chaos of ejecting water bottles as we hit the rough gravel on 18 Road. Sarah dropped off my pace after a few miles, and I found myself strangely feeling good and strangely still in my “omg, can you believe I GET to do this today?!” mindset. I didn’t have much strategy to this race except just survive and to eat an SIS gel every 30 minutes after the 1 hour mark. So I decided to go and just see what I could do as I knew was at least ten 10 among the women at that point.
So pedal pedal pedal I did. I blew through the first aid at mile 20-ish, and swore through a few miles of rutted cow pasture (which I did love how a racer I passed said “No, these are dinosaur tracks!” which was just an awesome statement to make). I had been steadily catching and passing 75 mile racers, which gave some motivation, but at the same time made it tough as number plates didn’t exactly dictate distance category and now I was in full on racer mode wanting to do the absolutely best that I could.
Aid 2 came and went and I could tell I was good on water (1.5L Camelback plus 1 bottle of 200 calories of Tailwind and 1 bottle of SIS electrolyte tabs is what I ran). The 100 milers split from the 75 milers at this point, and course traffic whittled down as we headed towards the Utah border. I decided this was a good place to eat an Uncrustable to boost the caloric intake, and I got the pleasure of taking a few miles to finally get the thing swallowed while chasing down riders in front of me. Exactly on the Utah-Colorado border I had to stop for a nature break and also to reapply some chamois butter. I was happy the only two racers that passed during this were men, so I wasn’t losing positions.
Flying down the Utah border was fun, although there was a stiff headwind. We rejoined with the 125 milers, so once again course traffic got all mangled up. I ended up quite alone on the section working back to Aid 3 (which is Aid 2 also – my course was a lollipop). I was still feeling good, luckily. At Aid 3 I decided to continue on, and latched onto a few racers that I’d go back and forth with for the next ten miles or so.
Then about at mile 65 or so I hit the tough times. The race was flying by, but eventually things get tough regardless how fast or long the race is. Naturally this was around the same time as the second go ’round with the cow pasture, which rattled my forearm muscles so much it was painful (I was very envious of the guy I had been riding with who had a MTB fork… he dropped me on this section, duh). Aid 4 (same as Aid 1) came and I knew I was good on fluids so I pushed on up the climb I started regretting the minute I flew down in a few hours prior. I rode in a group of a guy and a girl in the 100, which was good company as he played music and we discussed random things as we huffed and puffed up the climb in the full sun.
Then it was time for a very high speed section of double track, and time for me to get a little scared of descending on a gravel bike (I don’t trust desert sand and dust!). My friend Emil, who was in the 125 mile race, flew by me in a pack with an exclamation of “That’s my friend, Heidi!” and that perked me up to watch his double track descending wizardry. By then I had dropped my climbing pals, and since I knew that girl was in my race I got rejuvenated to finish out strongly.
Up and down, up and down some more… soon the trailheads of 18 Road were in sight and I knew exactly what was left – a few miles of high speed descending to the finish line. Of course, there had to be like 30mph winds thrown in, but I’m a Wyoming gal after all and if there’s one thing I can do, it is grit through a stiff headwind. I chased down a gal who I caught on the final climb, and we asked each other what distances we were in and the answer was both 100. We had a few seconds of awkward pause and then hammer time. The race is a race is a race to me, and I wasn’t going to chill at this moment. So there went that Heidi with a wattage cottage at mile 89!
91 miles later… 5 hours 32 minutes – bam! All done! Wait, wasn’t it a 100 mile race? Well of course, there was 7 miles of neutral spinning back to the second finish line in the park in Fruita that didn’t count. And… it… was… the… longest… 7… miles… of… my… life… No joke. Torturous. By then, everything was hurting and all the adrenaline was gone. Oh, and my Garmin decided to just stop navigating so when I got to the park, I was on the wrong side of the finish line so had to go around the block.
Officially 99 miles later, announcer Larry welcomed me across the finish line and I was handed my dinosaur finisher medal! Woohoo!! 6 hours 26 minutes total according to my Garmin (which included a few minutes of standing around at the start). Next order of business was yanking off the carbon soled shoes and apologizing to my feet. And taking a selfie. Sarah and Tom wandered over from Hot Tomato with a cup of ice water for me as I tried to figure out where results were posted.
4th place overall woman.
Top 40-ish overall of everyone- men and women.
Shoot, gotta stay for the podium now! Which I failed to clean off my dirt unibrow for, so I was looking like a delicious hot mess. I thought I got 2nd in 30-39, but since the other girl was top 3 overall, I was awarded the win among the 30-39 age group (it might’ve been my first every race podium where I didn’t realize I won, and tried to argue that I didn’t).
So… hmm… this was all very very very unexpected. I was just hoping to have a good day, survive, keep the bike in one piece, and my stomach fed. I didn’t think I’d be racing the course. I also didn’t think I’d have a bizarrely positive mindset about the whole thing. Honestly, I never even really got mentally low during the race, more of just a “if I have to ride over a another freaking cow hoof print I’m going to kill them all for steak” moment. I will say, CO2UT is a fast course, and I do worry what will happen when I end up in a 100 mile gravel race that is more in that 7-8 hour category. Six hours is nothing on a bike for me really… 7 or 8 hours pushes it into more unknown territory. But it is a promising start to my gravel events in 2021! And I think I’ll definitely be back to give the “Utahraptor” (125 miles) course a go! (Seriously, where did Heidi go?! This isn’t Heidi talking… 125 miles?!)
Race in numbers and random facts…
Pactimo summit raptor bibs keep the bum bum happy!
SIS gels (mix of regular and electrolyte formulas) every 30 minutes starting at the 1 hour mark. I replaced the gel at 2.5 hours with an Uncrustable
1.5L of water in the Camelback (not completely drained, maybe 0.25L left), and drank 12 ounce of Tailwind, 12 ounce of SIS electrolyte tab solution stuff
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!)!!!!
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…
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).
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!
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.