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.
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.