OK, motivation was GONE for this race, the 48 mile long Dakota Five-O in Spearfish, SD. I do believe this is the latest mountain bike race I have attempted in a season, and with little riding leading up to what would be one of my longest rides of the year on any bike , I knew it would just be a struggle bus all the way to the finish. Luckily the Black Hills are gorgeous and the trails are amazing, so there would be worse places to be suffering!
Rain was predicted all weekend, so I was more concerned with how my historically leaky tent would fair. The day before the race I took to spraying waterproofing on my tent at the Spearfish KOA and staking out the rain fly the best I could, hoping I wouldn’t be soggy. I spun down to the pasta dinner and back as my warm up for the next day. So beyond the season to be doing any sort of race openers!
I started in the first wave due to that “pro thing,” though I was fair from feeling fast. The race immediately starts climbing on pavement and dirt roads out of Spearfish, and I held on ok until probably the last mile where I dropped off the back and tried to settle into a sustainable pace. I was probably one of the last five of the first wave to hit the single track. It would be a long day of people passing me, I had accepted. The rainy/foggy weather led to some amazing vibes in the forest in an eery, enchanted way, and also left us with tacky hero dirt. Luckily nothing got muddy muddy, which was nice. However, South Dakota rocks are similar to East Coast rocks, and they were slick along with the thousands of tree roots. I spent the race reminding myself of how to ride the slick roots and rocks and thanked my Pennsylvania experiences.
I won’t lie, my motivation just wasn’t there. There were so many times I found myself so lightly pedaling, just putzing along with really no concept that I was racing. It was a mental struggle, and all I wanted to do was hurry up and get the race over with, but I wasn’t pushing myself to actually pedal fast. At least I could enjoy the trails! The sun did come out for a short while, but on a fast fire road descent we went from sunshine to fog with and extreme temperature drop in an instant, and it would stay foggy and drizzly the rest of the race for me.
All I really wanted was to get to the bacon and beer station around mile 34 or so. That was a glorious moment pulling in there, and getting that horribly soggy, cold piece of bacon and half cup of PBR! I took my time enjoying my snack. Funny enough, right after the bacon station was the most technical terrain of the race. Really slick rocks on a steep descent. I surprised myself with riding stuff that I probably normally wouldn’t have. I just really wanted to get done. Dakota Five-O is one of those races where people keep saying “it’s all downhill!” and then you spend miles slogging up some ascent, swearing at the person who told you that.
The race ends with a several mile long descent down Tinton Trail, which we climbed at the beginning. It was like the never ending trail of hell. Awesome trail, but at that point I really just wanted to be done more than ever! Popping out into the road was glorious, and I took to an aero tuck and hauled ass down back to Spearfish, topping out at 40mph. Once again, with the finish in sight I managed to sprint with energy. Oh hi motivation, nice to see you after 5 hours and 36 minutes… ugh!
My goal was to come in under 6 hours, with 5.5 hours being ideal, so I’m happy with my 5:36 finishing time. Could I have done it faster? Hell yeah. But I’m satisfied with how it all went with no training and the motivation issues. I loved the trail conditions, and honestly the course was not nearly as brutal as I was expecting! Most of the race I had the attitude of “been there, done that, got the tee shirt,” but now I’m thinking I want to attempt to go next year to experience the course in the opposite direction. So we’ll see! I ended up 11th in my age group and 27th overall out of 90+ women. Not too shabby!
Five seasons of Laramie Mountain Bike Series over four years of learning how to be a bike racer… and I took home the overall open women’s title!
LMBS was rough this year. Lack of training + lack of motivation or interest for XC racing + petty small town BS + the road race crash = kind of dragging myself to those six Tuesday races. But I made all six (another first), finished all of them, and survived! I really wanted to win the overall this year, but knew it probably wouldn’t be easy, but so happy I fought until the end and came out on top of my local race series!
After the first two races I kind of struggled. LMBS 3 came a few days after my amazing race at the Tatanka 50k, and involved two laps up Death Crotch. I just never could get a good rhythm on the climb, and the course really didn’t suite me well with it’s rather short amount of climbing (granted tough), combined with a ton of descending. I hung on for 2nd. LMBS 4 was more of the same… started on a descent, ended on a descent. I did make myself proud with clearing Aspen for the first time in the climbing direction with no dabs (I remember Sara and I walking decent amounts of it during the race in 2015). The final lap three of us came together, which I don’t remember seeing happening in an open LMBS race in a long time. I was riding 3rd and put down a great pass and sprint on a tight corner into a climb to take over 1st. I’d end up taking 2nd again.
I did the math and knew what I needed to do for the final two races. LMBS 5 almost didn’t happen, though. When I pulled into the parking lot I noticed my rear tire had deflated completely and come off the bead. In a panic I hauled butt down the summit and into Laramie, where Joel from the Pedal House quickly grabbed my bike, changed out the valve core, aired it back up, and sent me on my way. I drove the way back up to the race with my gloves and helmet on, knowing I wouldn’t have much time to make it to the starting line. I pulled in with ten minutes to spare, so no warm up as I had time to get the bike off the car, shove a pump and a million CO2’s in my back pocket, check in, and line up. Not ideal.
Luckily the course was to my style, with 20-30 minutes of solid climbing, followed by the descent down Death Crotch, and a steady uphill double track climb back through the start-finish. I knew I had to hammer the climbing to build the cushion for the descending, as Alyssa is a super fast descender. It had rained so the dirt had moisture which led to tacky hero dirt. And hammered I did from the whistle, and never looked back! I even took the QOM on the Summit trail climb, which I was surprised about since the rocks were slippery. I flew down Death Crotch, and even had a few advanced men racers tell me I was “flying.” Better than last year when a guy tried crashing me and another girl out for going “so slow!” Second lap went well, though another storm rolled in and just as I was cresting the climbing portion of Death Crotch to begin the descent there was lightning and icy rain pelting me. Usually I recover ever so slightly across the ridge, but I wanted out of the exposed area. I powered up the double track and took 1st place, much to my relief! And it all worked out that the 50psi of rear tire pressure I had worked out due to the tacky dirt!
Another round of math was done, and I realized I didn’t even have to show up to race at LMBS 6 and I would still secure the overall win. However, I wasn’t going down without a fight! My parents came out to watch me for the first time at an LMBS, which was exciting! The course made me nervous, as once it again it ended with a big descent. The start did involve climbing up Middle Aspen, so I knew I’d have to do what I did best, and that was climb. I did worry how my legs would respond as this was days after the National Championships up Pikes Peak, but it would be what it would be. With my new Specialized Racing white/pink kit I took to the starting line.
The first lap I felt awful. Absolutely awful! Side ache and just so unfit. But I knew I was flying as the steady stream of advanced men hadn’t flown by me yet, and they wouldn’t until I started the descent down Pole Creek back to the start-finish! I waved a few guys around, and one told me, “You’re hauling ass!” which made me smile. Unfortunately we would hit the kid racers on LiMBS, which to me was a very dangerous situation, as we were going 15-20mph, coming up on children on bicycles who really have no idea about what to do in race situations. Luckily it all went without incident, and we hammered through for the second lap. Second lap I felt better, and aside from going off my line and having to run up a loose climb on Middle Aspen, it was all going swell. I forced myself to get out of the saddle and to hammer when I could, especially on climbs.
After about an hour and four minutes I came through to my parents’ cheers with a big smile on my face and first LMBS overall win!
I won’t lie, I’m happy and relieved that MTB race season is over for 2016 (minus the Dakota 5-O, which I’m doing more for the awesome trails and experience than a race). On paper it actually looks like a good season, with double podiums at Fat Bike Nationals, and then three wins at LMBS and strong races at the Half Growler and Tatanka 50k. But to me it just wasn’t the season I had imagined. But it’s okay to have an off year, right? 😀 What I’m really enjoying are my more confident descending skills… I even took 3 MINUTES off my PR down Wathan… 3 minutes is huge!
I’ve started to try to think of what 2017 would hold in store for me. Initially in early 2016 I had said I wouldn’t race in 2017 and would focus on trying to get over to Iceland to ride, but as my season went on this year and didn’t go ideally I realized I wanted to see if I could make 2017 go a bit better, plus I’m dipping into my Iceland savings to pay the medical bills from the road race crash, and I only want to go to Iceland if I have the money to do the trip exactly how I want!
2017 rough plans:
Absolutely no mass start traditional road races. My wallet cannot afford another $7000 trip to the ER due to someone else’s poor bike skills. I do plan on trying to do some of the hill climbing events, and maybe early spring TT’s to get that motivation burning and going. I think a flaw for 2016 was I didn’t race all spring until Florida Cup in May. There was nothing keeping the spark alive to keep training.
Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte in January. I’ll get to meet up with the Dirt Components crew which will be awesome, and I’ll get in several solid days of fun on the fat bike!
Half Growler to try to go sub-4 hours after having an awesome time this year at the race
Tatanka 50k because the race was amazing!
Possibly the Carson City Off-Road
Leadville Stage Race. Expensive, but it’s perked my interest, and I think is the most feasible way for me to go back and “finish” the LT100 course. Plus I’ve been wanting to do a mountain bike stage race for awhile now. There’s a new stage race in Iceland, and wouldn’t this be a good prep? 😀
USAC Hill Climb Nationals. Obvious reasons!
Missing from the plans are the Gowdy Grinder. That race is out to kill me, and I haven’t had fun at it for years. I’m on the fence about LMBS, surprisingly. It’ll really depend on how training and preparation goes, along with how my race calendar shapes up. I only want to race LMBS next year if I’m in great XC shape.
I’ll have to see how it all fits in and goes, but being considered is USAC Marathon MTB Nationals and the 50k version of Pierre’s Hole.
There’s a theme, and once again it’s longer endurance races. Eventually I think I’ll decide whether to focus on XCO vs. XCM, but until then I think I’m young enough to keep flip flopping 🙂
Until then… there’s cyclocross and riding just how I feel like it (wait, that’s been most of this year… ha!)!! Also I am trying to mix it up with a few other sports. I’m really itching to re-learn how to skate ski and add that in for my winter training (though who wants to bet how quickly I’m trying to enter ski races?).
I can’t recall how many times I’ve laid in bed and daydreamed what winning a national championship would be like… coming across the line… would I try to post up? Maybe just one arm up, I’m too clumsy for that two hands off the bars thing. Finishing with happy tears. This is what it’d be like for a mountain bike title…. this is what it would be like for a fat bike title… hmmm, unlikely, but a hill climb title. Wouldn’t it be awesome? The jersey to wear on Fourth of July, and getting to add the Stars and Stripes to the collar and sleeves of all my kits for the rest of my life. All of it just sounds so awesome!
I pretty much decided last minute (aka a week out) to do the USAC Hill Climb National Championships. I debated it most of the summer, and then after a horrid day climbing Mt. Evans, another Colorado 14er with paved road access (followed by another horrid day of attempting to climb Guanella Pass and giving up), I was pretty discouraged by the thought of giving Pikes Peak, a harder 14er climb a go. Finally I decided what the hell and registered. I figured if anything I could just mark the second road-bikeable 14er off my list and be done with this climbing nonsense and a season filled with some not so good times. On Wednesday I woke up with a sore throat and stuffy head that persisted all week, so I kicked myself for possibly getting sick so close to a race I already registered for, and one that couldn’t take most cold medicines for. OK, just survive this…
After spending almost four hours in the car attempting to get to Colorado Springs on a Friday afternoon, I finally arrived to packet pick up, and old teamies Joe and Mike, who had a beer ready for me at the bar. Pikes Peak was enveloped in stormy clouds as we swapped our thoughts for the next day and got caught up on our lives. I was starting to get nervous. What exactly had I gotten myself into?! I have barely been doing anything that counts as “training,” let alone riding, and had those memories of Mt. Evans in the back of my mind. The race would follow the PPIHC course (Pikes Peak International Hill Climb… the infamous car race that takes place every year) – 12.4 miles with 4,700 feet of elevation gain and 156 turns. A 12.4 mile bike race may not seem like anything, but climbing 4,700 feet in that time is pretty damn insane… not to mention the race starts at 9,300 feet and ends up at 14,110 feet!
I surprisingly slept well, and woke up at 4:20am ready to go. Packed up the car and swung through McDonald’s drive thru (which had a line… at 4:45am?!) for my traditional Number 3 with large Hi-C Orange and large vanilla latte. The drive up to Pikes Peak Toll Road was uneventful, and I smiled as I railed Mr. Fozzy through the corners. Pikes Peak is, after all, a special place for me. It’s where I met the ex that introduced me to cycling… it’s where I saw Paul Walker in person, and was one of the last events I ever photographed as I winded down my racing photography stint. So driving my turbo SUV like a race car brought me joy among the impending doom of what was coming up.
It was chilly as I aimlessly wandered around with no purpose. Use the port-a-potty. Get in my timing chip. Affix said chip to bike. Debate clothes. Eat a third of my egg mcmuffin and get all sad as I had no appetite. Laugh at Mike throwing up gang signs. Ride 0.6 miles and call it a warm up. Finally settle on arm warmers, thermal long sleeve jersey, wind vest, bibs, knee warmers, wool winter socks, and long finger gloves – I thought it was summer, why all the clothes? Hold my teammate’s bike as she uses the port-a-potty. Shoot, guess we gotta go race now.
Roll up to the start. There’s three of us, so there’s a 33.33% chance of winning a national championship. I had let the thoughts roll into my head the week between registration and the race. I would try to shake them off. I didn’t want to get myself excited for something that probably wouldn’t happen, much like at fat bike nationals, where it was so close but four minutes away in the end. The whistle blows and Melissa takes off in a sprint, and I’m left wondering how to get my left foot in my pedal. UGH. I didn’t want a fast start. There’s only so many matches when racing up to 14,000 feet in elevation that you can burn. But I chased. I wasn’t going down without a fight. I tucked into her back wheel. She was pushing the pace. After about a mile or so the grade turned up, and I came around her and just kept going. I just figured I’d just go and see what would happen. I’d never led in a national championship race except for the 20 seconds I led in the pro race at Fat Bike Nationals. Another what the hell moment, it’s not like I wouldn’t finish with at least a bronze medal if it all went bad.
The climb to the summit averages 7%, with many much much much steeper portions. Surprisingly I found myself just trucking along, though I was sad to discover how early I was already in my granny gear (yay compact cranksets and 32t cogs!). My cadence settled in around the high 60s (big contrast to my normal 90+ rpm), and power in the tempo zone. I had come to terms that for two hours, or hopefully less, my sole purpose in life was to talk to Paul Walker’s ghost and to pedal my bike nonstop. Really as simple as that. Surprisingly, the course was going fast. I ticked off every mile and gave myself a good ol’ “there ya go, now — miles to go to the top!” I mean, it was 12.4 miles. Anybody can do anything for 12.4 miles, right?
Coming up to the W’s was almost an overwhelming moment for me. There is was… my corner! The one I photographed from in 2011! For a brief second I actually closed my eyes and said “This one’s for you, Paul.” (If anybody hasn’t figured out that the import car scene pretty much shaped my adult life by now, now you know. Seriously, I wouldn’t have been riding a bike up Pikes Peak if it wasn’t for all the car stuff.) The W’s are hard… hell, I had struggled walking up them with 20 pounds of camera gear in 2011… and here I was grinding them out on a bike (which actually did seem easier). But I knew after the W’s came Devil’s Playground, where for some brief minutes the road flattens out and descends into Bottomless Pit.
This is where I would start riding blind. I have never been beyond Devil’s Playground. And I had made the fatal assumption that the road flattened out after Devil’s Playground for good… forgetting the fact it still ascends something like 1,100 feet in a handful of miles. Bottomless Pit is a teaser… 30mph down I flew to grind 4.5mph up the hill that follows. It had hit… the wall of doom. I still had not seen my competitors behind me, which I had checked for as the road switchbacked up, so I knew I had a solid lead, but I also knew that anything can happen at any moment on a bicycle. I knew I hadn’t been drinking very well, as it’s really hard to drink when your heart rate is 180bpm and you’re focused on pedaling at a steady pace. So I panic drank some of my Tailwind mix. I was using the raspberry caffeinated mix, so if anything I was hoping for a caffeine high. Also to note, I had finally crossed above 13,000 feet in elevation, so it’s quite possible that I just wasn’t moving the oxygen to my muscles that I was needing. Because 13,000 feet is very high, and it was only the second time in my life I had been at this elevation. (Side note: I am very thankful I was born at 7200 feet, raised at nearly 9000 feet, live now at 6200 feet, and race/train at 7000-9000 feet, as moderately high altitude has little effect on me compared to most others.)
At about mile 10 I spotted the familiar blue and yellow kit of Spradley Barr Wind Chill Cycling on the back of Joe… finally, my rabbit! But I just couldn’t get those legs to turn faster, as my cadence dropped into the 50s, and my heart rate went from north of 180bpm to the 170s. Elevation… it’s a bitch when it finally does affect you. Or was it my lack of calories and fluid intake? Oh hell, just keep pedaling. WHY ARE THE FINAL MILES SO DAMN STEEP? ARGHH. My exact thoughts. Come on Paul Walker, I could really use a shot of nitrous right about now…
Around a hairpin and cog railroad tracks. OK, Joe mentioned something about this being near the summit. Dammit, why can’t I catch him? Around another corner… wait, is that the finishing arch I see? HOLY SH!T I’M GOING TO WIN A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP! And that, my friends, is how I managed to up my speed, up my power, up my heart rate, and actually start picking up speed on a bicycle again. Or the caffeinated Tailwind kicked in. Or I managed to engage NOS Program 2.0 and speed ahead of Toretto.
OK OK OK, WHAT DO I DO?! The daydream… it was becoming reality. Like… I don’t win very many bike races, let alone really really really REALLY important ones. Zip the vest… ok, whew, remembered that. Can’t have anyone seeing me win with my sports bra hanging out. I don’t do it at LMBS, and I certainly can’t have it happening now! Massive smile and a celebratory fist pump and single right arm raised into the air!
1 hour 51 minutes 12.89 seconds. The inaugural masters women 30-39 hill climb national champion.
The flood gates of uncontrollable crying and tears began. Joe Joe Joe Joe I WON!!! I yelled out as I finally caught Joe after the finish line. I stopped and slumped over my bars just crying. I think my other teammate Kate came over and asked what was wrong and I stammered out some sloppy half-crying half-happy “I WON!” Then I noticed how badly my butt hurt. So painful I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t bend over. Wow, 7% grade for nearly two hours does the sit bones no good! (I never was out of the saddle after the starting sprint. I was worried the acceleration in my heart rate could be a bad mistake.)
The time at the summit was spent hobbling over to get my gear bag and tossing on my warm thermal jacket and dry gloves – my fingers were so cold and numb by the summit that I had trouble shifting for the final get up and go, and then gathering up some teammates for photos at the summit sign. I had huge concerns about descending, as I spent the first 5 miles descending Mt. Evans crying in fear, but luckily Pikes Peak Highway is perfectly paved (see, car races are good for keeping road conditions good!), and after changing into my heavier wind proof gloves I descended confidently. Traffic kept the speeds slow, and at some points I was actually wanting to go faster.
I still can’t believe how it went. Much like the Tatanka 50k where I spent a lot of time breaking my personal rules, I did the same on Pikes Peak. I never thought I’d get a national title on a road bike, especially after my crash in June that left me swearing off any sort of group road biking competitive activity for the foreseeable future. I’ve always described myself as a climber, but this year it never quite went well for me the times I tried the “big girl” climbs on Mt. Evans and Guanella. But the entire time up Pikes Peak, minus for some negative thoughts with two miles to go, I was actually calm and enjoying the climb… I had accepted that it is what it is, and only way to go was to keep pedaling upwards. ‘
But I also think I helped break some other people’s rules. Unfortunately I have had it mentioned to me more than enough times statements such as “You’re really big to be a climber,” “You climb well for someone your size,” and “You’re better off being a sprinter.” Y’all, I am 5’9.5″ and 150 pounds. By American standards, I am a tiny person. But to some cyclists, I’m apparently “too big” to be climbing hills, or at least have it be my strength on a bike. Yeah, I’m almost 33 years old… I have hips and a big booty. I have cellulite, and I certainly do not have a six pack (unless it’s six pack of tacos). I can put down 800 watts in a sprint, there’s no doubt I can sprint. But holy crap people, I can climb on a bike as well! It’s my saving grace on the mountain bike, it’s how I do well at those races, and my ability to climb has also paid off on the road bike. Stop telling people what they should be good at based on a body size! /soapbox
Anyways, for a final wrap up of some nerdy statistics:
4,717 feet of elevation gain
6.6mph average speed
182bpm average heart rate, max of 192bpm
67rpm average cadence
192 watts average power (195 watts weighted average)
I spent 41% of my time in my tempo power zone 167-199 watts), and 31% of my time in my threshold zone 200-233 watts). I am super comfortable with how that all worked out, and mostly am very happy about the consistent effort.
What a great highlight of my race season as it winds down! Shoot, I just may have to race it again next year!
Where is this summer going?! Already one week into July… the year seems to be flying by. It’s definitely been a year of changing plans and kind of going with the flow. I decided a bit ago, probably shortly after deciding I would stop following a training plan, that I wouldn’t be going to nationals, which was my big goal for the summer. The traveling, the money to spend (big factor), and potentially not really getting to race much (uh, hi. Olympians in my race) kind of all factored in. It was a relief, but I do find myself getting slightly sad. But it’s all working out since my crash and injuries anyway.
The exciting thing is the Laramie Mountain Bike Series started!! Woohoo! My World Cups! Unfortunately the first race came 3 days after my crash, which really stressed me out. A lot of people were surprised to see me lining up, heavily bandaged and rather spacey and out of it due to my concussion. (I am in NO way advocating racing with a concussion. Not a smart idea.) Luckily the course was a good one – pretty much climb for 30 minutes, descend for 15… repeat! The start for LMBS got moved to the lower trailhead this year and starts on a new 0.7 mile stretch of single track called LiMBS that is ungodly rough. I went with my Epic, and softened my suspension all the way to help out with my bum shoulder and also to help reduce my brain jiggling around.
I do believe I took the second row, behind Georgia. The rest of the open women tend to hang in the back, but I learned last year to take my place up front. There were 9 ladies in open women, which was awesome!! Start went off, and the pain of XC racing started. I tried to hang onto wheels as we went up LiMBS and I fight to find some rhythm. It freaking hurt. I questioned why I was racing. Gwynn came around me on Pole Creek, and I just settled in to a semi-comfortable-but-this-still-freaking-hurts pace up the climbs and onto Headquarters.
On Headquarters I saw Teresa catching me on the climb, but I managed to gap her on the descending. I was trying to ride semi-cautiously on the descents as the last thing I wanted to do was crash and worsen any injuries. Luckily a big part of the descent is on a stretch of double track, and I put the power down, getting all aero and roadie! Middle Aspen we caught some beginner traffic, which I think is stressful for both the beginners and pros. My passes went well and I was through the start/finish for my second lap still in second place.
On the second lap Teresa finally made contact on the overlook climb on Headquarters. I stayed within a few seconds of her until the rocky, chunky climb up the Summit Loop, where I bobbled and took a few seconds to catch my breath. Bye bye Teresa! I still didn’t know where anybody else was, so I hammered the descending to finish third… woohoo! I had no idea how this race would go, and it surprisingly went ok with all things considered!
A week later was the second LMBS race. With an additional week of recovery, I was excited to get back to racing feeling healthier. The course was set to be long and tough at 19.5 miles. It involved three descents down Aspen, which is rocky and rooty and highly eroded. I hadn’t ridden it since last year so I didn’t know how it would be. This time I took the third row among the men at the start, and immediately from the start I felt like poo. My legs just weren’t showing up. But I settled in, and reminded myself to pace my efforts since it was a long race, and there was no sense in blowing up on the first lap or two.
First time Aspen I took it fairly cautiously, taking my time to choose lines. The descent down Haunted Forest was super sandy and sketchy. We had to turn around a downed tree, and a branch lodged itself in my rear wheel so I had to jump off and pull it out, and then continue. We had to do the long double track Old Happy Jack climb back to the start/finish which is an advantage for me since it’s just a pure power type of riding. It sucks as you don’t get any recovery, even on the flatter portions, it’s all max heart rate the whole time. I came through in first place, which made me smile for my second lap!
Second lap went well, though on Aspen an advanced men category male decided to start throwing a fit and swore at me by name for not descending faster. Stressful, but damn, I was leading open women and I ride within my abilities, especially with a concussion, dammit! Finally he got around on a safer section to pass, and I was surrounded by polite racers the rest of the race. Once again, came through for my third and final lap in first, no women in sight. I still didn’t know where Teresa was behind me, and I wasn’t finding familiar faces in advanced men to ask how far back the other women were. I would ride 90% of the third lap all by myself, which always gets eery, because I always end up feeling like I’m the last person on the race course.
Finally on the Old Happy Jack climb Jim caught me and said he hasn’t seen any women since he passed them on his first lap… whew! I had it! 🙂 So I looped back up Pole Creek, and then did the funniest thing… I zipped up my jersey… ha! I always see the Big Girls do that at World Cups, and so you know… a Laramie MTB race is like a World Cup… so I zipped that stuff up! #tooprobutsonotpro is appropriate at this moment in time… and I won my second ever LMBS open women’s race with a margin of 3.5 minutes!
I was gassed at the end of the race, which pleased me as it meant I left it all out there. And I was super excited, as for the first time ever I moved into the “leader’s jersey” aka (“leader’s horn”) in any category at the series!! Gives me motivation for the other 4 races left in the series, as I’d love to bring the open women’s overall back to a Laramie native and Wyoming resident 😀
So yeah… this summer is just all about going with the flow. I’m honestly not riding very much, especially since I’ve been doing 4-day stretches at work. But it’s ok, and I’m ok with it. Since I still have all my time off from my canceled nationals trip, I have some fun stuff planned! I’m racing the 50k Tatanka Point to Point in Sturgis, SD this weekend. Then I’ll be able to make LMBS #3 (so excited I can do all 6 races this year!). Got some other fun rides planned, too. Maybe this is working out for me, after all…
It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to blog or write a race report. Florida Cup was a comically horrible, humbling experience in racing in my first pro USAC field in a “foreign” environment (Florida is really nothing like Wyoming… they have gators!). Gowdy Grinder had potential until I launched myself airborne off my bike just shy of 3 miles in, banging myself up pretty bad physically and mentally. 2016 was quickly turning into the race season of crashes and lowered expectations.
And then it was time for the Gunnison Half Growler! I was nervous about how this race would go since I have stopped formally training (I suppose that’s another topic for another time I should write about). I knew I was looking at a 4+ hour day, which was way more than I had been riding in a long long long time. I got to Gunnison about 2:30 on Friday, and was early enough to packet pick up that I was able to get a growler from last year (no growler finisher prizes this year 😦 ), and then checked into my little cabin at the KOA (which is the best KOA everrrrr). Since it looked stormy, I quickly changed and jumped on my bike to head up to Hartman Rocks to get in a few “opener” miles. Luckily I got in my miles before the monsoon set in!
Race morning I was up at 7am and prepared my 2L of Tailwind and debated clothing. Last year I was oh so thankful to have my thermal jersey when the rain set in, so I had a bit of paranoia going into this year. I remember in 2015 the start was sunny, and less than an hour in there was freezing hail. I tend not to trust weather forecasts, so choosing my clothing was just about the hardest thing! Just a bit before 8 I set out into town, picked up breakfast, and relaxed in my car in the county parking lot. I ended up going with my thermal jersey, and stashed a wind jacket and vest in my Camelback. for good measure. I would end up regretting the warm jersey since the day stayed sunny until the last 20 minutes!
Ugh, the start. The start of the Growler is the scariest thing to me since a lot of the competitors do not have experience in pack riding, and we have a good 4.5 miles of “neutral,” high speed pack riding to survive through. When the gun went off I was expecting the guy in front of me to move faster than he did, so I hit his back tire and came off my bike. A frustrated girl behind me started in with the “SERIOUSLY, REALLY?” nonsense which frustrated me more as I tried to hop back on my bike in a timely fashion. Finally I was up and rolling and tried to get to the front. There were still a few scary moments, but I managed to not be part of the crash that occurred turning onto the dirt at Hartman’s parking lot. Since it was dry and dusty I took to picking off people up Kill Hill, which I felt surprisingly good on (turns out I would end up 11th on the Strava leaderboard on Kill Hill… just seconds out of the top 10!)… I can still climb?!
I feel like the first hour or so is all just about settling in. I focused on smooth descending, remembering my form, and found myself confidently riding a lot of stuff! My only goal for this race was to beat my 2015 time, though the course direction was reversed (and this year was supposedly the “harder” direction which I don’t doubt!). After about that initial hour or so I settled in with roughly the same 10 people that I would ride around the rest of the day. I remembered to try to just pace myself, spinning a lot of the climbs and reminding myself it was about the long haul and to not blow myself up since I was in uncharted territory in regards to lack of training and bike time this year.
The dry, dusty conditions made the race seem to fly by compared to last year where it was a slip and slide on a lot of the stuff in the first half or so. Skull Pass (rough half point) came faster than I was expecting. Unfortunately Skull Pass SUCKS in this direction (counterclockwise), and it was a long hike a bike over many sections. Bright sun + no wind + hiking = sucky time. I was remaining pretty positive and happy the whole race, but Skull Pass soured my mood. I was never so happy to grind up that road to the aid station! I had found myself not really desiring to drink my Tailwind, and was craving plain water, so I downed my one bottled, and stopped and had it refilled at Skull Pass. I turned down the bacon as I didn’t know what it would do to my stomach 😦 I then set out to climb up to the high point of the course, and then enjoy a long double track descent.
The road up to the power line area was another long, steep hike a bike as the road was very sandy and loose and after awhile the tires would just start spinning. I really really really hate walking my bike, it brings back horrible memories of the Columbine Climb during the Leadville 100. Luckily this wasn’t that long! The race still seemed to be going by super fast, and I got excited at what my finish time would be… then would come the death by a million small technical climbs. Why all the technical stuff comes 30 miles in is beyond me… but Rattlesnake is just brutal when you’ve never ridden it before and your arms are noodles! I had remained crash-free, so I walked a lot of stuff… a lot.
I had a fun moment when my teammate Michelle caught me at 3 hours 59 minutes. She had told me at the start “see you at 3 hours!” She has amazing endurance and badass descending skills, so I knew she would catch me… but I joked “what took you so long?” and we had a chuckle when she said “it’s 3 hours!” and I told her it was really 4. We were now very close to the finish so I tried to let loose on the final descents, and shifted down on the double track to lay down the power and not lose any more positions in the final little bits.
4 hours 3 minutes 58 seconds…
31 minutes faster than 2015!
I was so happy with my result and how awesome I felt throughout the race that I immediately thought “wow, I need to come back next year and aim for sub-4 hours!” That is a first. I have never finished an endurance XC race (let alone any XC race really), and immediately wanted to do it again! I ended up 6th in pro women… which was last place. But that was alright as I knew I wasn’t aiming for a podium (ok, I would’ve been 3rd had I raced my age group. Ahem. Yes, I checked that. Damn this pro license haha). I was 24th overall for women, compared to 39th in 2015, so I’m happy to be solidly in the top half! It was just so awesome to do a race since Fat Bike Nationals where I haven’t crashed or had what seemed to be the whole world working against me!
So the theory has been posed… maybe it’s good that I stopped “training” in a formal, regimented manner? That remains to be seen, probably. But I have noticed my newly descending and technical skills, which I think has helped me make up those little seconds here and there that I might be losing by not having my full climbing fitness. Who knows… I had fun, and that’s all I care about!
Oh, and I did oh so bad with my nutrition… thinking I had polished off my Camelback of Tailwind, I pulled out the bladder once I got back to the car and was shocked to see I drank only a “few inches” out of it 😦 But I never felt bonked… only outside nutrition was one Clif banana-mango pouch, 1.5 bottles of plain water, and two pickle slices. Something to work on leading up to some of the bigger races I have planned!
Goodbye off season! I decided last fall I would give the USAC Fat Bike National Championships a go since Ogden is close and I owned a fat bike. I was still in my “I hate this crap” mode about fat biking, but as winter has gone on, I fell more and more in love with being out in the cold and snow riding my normal trails on big ol’ tires. I decided I wanted to target nationals as a “B” race for the year, and really try hard for the best result I could give. So there I was signed up for both my masters women 30-39 race and the women’s pro race, which were two hours apart. 30 miles, couple of hours, and snow!
My parents joined me for the trip, which was a nice change from lonely and long drives and eating out alone (a huge fear of mine). I picked up my new 2016 Salsa Beargrease Carbon on Wednesday, and gave it a nervous and quick spin up at Happy Jack before we left for Ogden on Thursday morning. The drive was uneventful, with 75 cent cones in Little America, and a relief for me that for once I could just sit and stare at the scenery vs having to keep my eyes on the road! As we approached Ogden my excitement grew and grew as I took in the mountains. Yay, it’s time to race bikes!
Friday morning we made the drive up to Powder Mountain for a pre-ride. The course… well… it’s the not the variety of fat biking I do. I do tricky, tight single track. The nationals course was what felt like 20 feet wide highway, and aside from a very very short “single track” section wasn’t tricky at all. There’s a couple of berms, but I made the decision I wouldn’t ride up on them as it wasn’t worth the risk to my result. I’ve biked enough in the snow to know what’s risky and what’s riskier. The course starts with a fast downhill – 30mph fast – with a few punchy climbs before more fast false flat sections. Halfway you turn and start climbing. I’ll hand it to the course for having some serious climbing. There were about 3 or 4 super steep pitches and then otherwise long climbing grinds. I pre-rode in the granniest of granny gears to save my legs and developed a massive side ache that typically comes after not being at altitude for awhile, which didn’t make sense because Happy Jack is the same elevation and I had just rode there. I blamed it on the hotel breakfast croissants in the end. I finished up the pre-ride and called it good after one lap. The new bike felt amazing, almost like being on my S-Works Fate on dry dirt with it’s responsiveness. I had the tires set up tubeless, and that definitely helped make pedaling seem more effortless. The 45Nrth Husker Dus hooked up good in the mushy snow conditions.
We headed back to Ogden and went to packet pick up and the little expo where I made some connections, and bought some amazing neon pink Specialized gloves that matched my kit, and got my numbers. They would end up giving me the wrong number plate for my amateur age group race, which I realized in the morning. Ugh. Glad I caught that one!
My parents and I arrived early on race day to secure good parking and to just make sure we made it nice and early. It was cold, in the 30s, with a chilly wind so I mostly sat around in the truck, until I went and got my correct number plate. I warmed up with a few hard sprints on the starting stretch, and then back on a long steep climb to the parking lot. I settled for a thermal base layer and thermal jersey on top, thermal tights under my bibs, wool socks, chemical toe warmer packs, my Sidi Ghibli shoes, and big ol’ Pearl Izumi gloves.
They started all under 40 age group women together. It kinda sucks as they gave us 15 seconds after call ups before the whistle, which left several racers in a bind as they tossed off their coats. I had a strong start from the second row, and quickly found myself out front with Ami (eventual winner of 30-39), and a couple of juniors. Ami and I quickly gapped the field. I didn’t know what age group she was in, so I tried to stick to her wheel. We got hung up a bit by some male racers in the single track portions. Once back on the “highway,” she looked behind herself and saw me and powered away like nothing. It didn’t faze me, as I was feeling strong and was trying to get away from whoever might be behind us. I hit the climb and felt super strong. I would go on to do this race 99% in my big ring, only dropping down to the small ring on the 3 steepest pitches. The first lap would largely be about passing the men that I caught. I would remind myself to shift into a tougher gear and keeping putting down the power, and it was working. Whoa, training might’ve worked a bit?! Luckily I didn’t have any stomach or side ache problems, and seemed like my body was responding positively to the effort at nearly 9000 feet and 180bpm heart rate.
I came around for my second and final lap of the race and it seemed that aside from any catastrophes I would finish as the 2nd overall amateur woman, and unsure where I was in the age group breakdown. I flew down the speedy parts, and reminded myself to be calm and careful on the softer parts in order to stay upright. I would fly up all the climbs once again, only 8 seconds off my time from the first lap! Yay, consistency! The wind was starting to pick up, and seemed like a headwind in every direction, so I was pleased to be nearing the finish. I shifted down and sprinted across the line with the biggest smile! 2nd overall amateur women at 1 hour 5 seconds, and I would be 2nd in 30-39!
I am completely happy with my results in the 30-39 race, and I really cannot think of anything I would’ve or could’ve done differently. The winner was super stronger, and definitely way stronger than I was (and with the advantage of racing here before), but I feel like I gave 100% out on the course and had the perfect race that I had imagined for weeks and weeks while training. But damn, I was exhausted. Back in my parents’ truck I whined that I didn’t want to do the pro race, and pretty much just sat there, and only sipped a protein drink. Finally with 15 minutes to go until the pro race I quickly changed out my base layer and jersey, and threw on lighter weight gloves, and headed down. I reasoned with myself that I could pull out of the pro race if I had to.
I had the last call up in the race of 6 women since I don’t have USAC mountain bike points (and was the only cat 1 in the pro race). Lonely little me in the second row 😦 The start was NOT fast at all… the amateur start was way faster! I found myself off the front, which I giggled about. Here’s me with already 12 race miles in my legs, and I was off the front in the pro race. No worries, soon the group would swallow me and I took to drafting in the horrid winds that had to be blowing 20-30mph at this point. 5 of us would stay together going into the halfway point of the first lap and into the climb. Then it would be Rebecca, Porsha, and I. I could feel my previous race in my legs, and figured I would just try to hold onto 5th place, because according to USAC when I registered, that would be a podium spot (and we all know USAC does what they want in the end, so the podium was only 3 deep when awards came around. Thanks USAC).
Up up up in the horrid crosswinds. Gusts would hit me and I would come to a stand still. But I still cleared the climbs and stayed on my bike. Came around feeling actually pretty good into the second lap. This would be the lap where the pro men leaders would lap me and I joked coming through for the 3rd lap that my race should be over… I was told “you don’t get off this easy!” Off for my 3rd lap in the freezing cold wind. My gloves were a poor choice and my fingers were screaming. At one point in the pro race my lips actually froze together! My face burned from being blasted with icy snow. My stomach was growling, and I ate a gel and chugged down my bottle of Tailwind, hoping I survived. “Well, I’m in neon pink, so I’ll be easy to see…” I thought, thinking about my impending face plant into a snowbank from starvation. “How the HELL is Kayley in short sleeves?” I wondered another moment. “I hate my pink gloves. They’re so cold” “This is NOT as bad as Leadville, this is NOT as bad as Leadville!” “Oh god, I’m going to miss my podium if I don’t hurry up!!”
On the third lap I caught Porsha’s wheel on the climb and it was a relief to see her struggling in the wind. Sometimes I think suffering is easier when you realize everyone is suffering! On the first steep pitch we both kinda “blew” off our bikes into soft snow and had to walk/run/shuffle up the hill before remounting. This is where Porsha would finally pull away, which I knew was ok as I never had the gas left in the tank to really stick to her wheel and launch an attack for 4th place. Coming around seeing the finish line was such a relief! The announcer talked about how it was my second race of the day, and I smiled, and then nearly crashed where the pro men finishing sprint had a mishap. I dragged myself across the finish line to my parents’ cheers. I’m so happy my parents made me get out of the truck, dammit! 1 hour 57 minutes of frozen wind hell for 5th place!
And that’s my Fat Bike National Championships! Fun day, and especially fun for my parents who haven’t had the chance to see me race a lot, and definitely not fat biking related. The races had some tough conditions, but I definitely felt my interest perk in future fat bike racing. My Salsa Beargrease performed flawlessly, and I’m even more in love with the bike than I already was! Big thanks to Acme Bicycles 307 for quickly getting the bike ordered and put together for me in time for the big race! And of course there’s the whole big group of people to thank: Naked Women’s Racing (my team!), ESI Grips, Honey Stinger, Tailwind, and TrainerRoad! Biggest thanks of all go to my parents who joined me on the trip and importantly made me do that pro race as they knew I would regret it if I didn’t start.
Whoa, I think I finally enjoying cyclocross a bit more?! After dialing back racing a ton this season for my sanity and health, I came to the realization that there is no need to go and race every weekend. So I’ve been picking and choosing my races carefully. Since that means a wide open schedule, I decided to travel the 2.5 hours north to Casper to race at the Wyoming State Cyclocross Championships put on by Fat Fish Racing.
The weather was mild, yet windy (it’s oh so windy in Casper). The course was at Washington Park, and was quite difficult with a lot of steep off camber grass climbs and descents, some single track, barriers, dizzying spiral, and a steep dirt descent that was long and upwards of -35% grade at times that tested handling skills on skinny tires and the ability of canti rim brakes to slow a bike.
I must admit, I sometimes struggle at cross races without my constant tape and 9′ regulation width, but I soon figured out how to navigate the flags and cones that marked the course. The open/expert men and women lined up together for what would be an hour long race. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but when I’m use to 40 minutes of cross racing that extra 20 minutes is HARD! I tried for a good starting position, but the narrow-at-times course had people fighting for position. Luckily traffic thinned out and I set to keeping and building my lead over the other two female competitors. I didn’t feel well during the race, my legs seemed a bit dead and lacking in power – turns out my seat slide down 7cm! Not sure that’s the entire reason, but had to play a little part! On the bright side, I magically taught myself how to remount without stutter stepping, and remounted perfectly all 9 laps, so the barriers went super well. After a little over 58 minutes I cross the line as the women’s state champ! Woohoo!
The next day was a race north of Fort Collins, TCCX. TCCX = Tom Carter Cyclocross, a fundraiser for a local cyclist that had an unfortunate BMX accident and spent time in the ICU. There is nothing like a grassroots race in Fort Collins, as they know how to party and put together a good event! Mud was involved, much to my delight as it has been a mud free cross season for me thus far. 4 of us lined up for the open women’s race, including my friend Suzie and local 12 year old whiz kid Olivia. Since this was not USAC or anything stern and boring, there was a “Bourbon Bypass” that allowed one to skip a longer stair run up if you took a shot of whiskey at the bypass. Needless to say, that was definitely an advantage to a certain point!
The race was shenanigans filled! I took the Bourbon Bypass all 9 laps, so that goes without saying some bike handling might’ve gone out the window! But it was a ton of fun nonetheless with a great crowded heckling me on, and I was still remounting my bike properly! I ended up in 3rd place. I was in 2nd solidly for 6 laps, then decided to dial it back, take beer handups and just survive the 40 minute race 🙂
Two fun races all in one weekend! Wow, I figured out how to make this cyclocross thing enjoyable! 🙂
Cyclocross season is here! This year I decided to take a more relaxed approach since I was so miserable last year. So I bought a single speed 2016 Specialized Crux, and vowed to have fun and not get dejected by strings of last place finishes!
I started off with one of the weeknight races in Golden at Back 2 Basics. I doubled up with both Women’s B and Singlespeed. My body wasn’t quite ready for the shock of cyclocross, and the B race was quite painful. I was the last off the line at the start, which meant dealing with a lot of traffic. I ended up 14th, solid midpack which wasn’t bad for having such a bad start. My singlespeed, which was an open men’s category, went a lot better with significantly faster lap times, and I was 22nd, which I was pleased about!
Onto CycloX Valmont on September 19th – my favorite venue! I love love love racing at Valmont with it’s long sustained climb and fast downhills with table top jumps, and stair run ups that I can run up… just pure love!
First up was my first time in the brand new BRAC category, singlespeed 4/5. USAC rules allow women to race down a category, so I have been quite tickled that I can race a SS category that is a bit more of my ability (no offense cat 1/2/3 men, but you’re too fast for this girl!). I ran 40×18 gearing, which was a complete guess (it worked out nicely!)
I settled into 4th place rather comfortably after some passes. I really enjoyed having shifting taken out of the equation, and enjoyed trying to maintain speed as best as I could through corners and on the downhills. All was going well, even the 5280 Stairs, until the 3rd lap on the Belgian Stairs. Up I went sprinting and then BAM! The top left of my pelvis caught all my weight on the edge of a stair after I tripped at full speed. Immediately spectators asked if I was alright and I nodded yes, but I was in some of the worse pain I had ever felt in my life. I hobbled up the rest of the stairs, nearly doubled over as more people asked if I was really ok. I kept nodding and got on my bike, like any reasonable person would do, ha! Dismounting, remounting, and running were out as it was too painful, but I carried on. I lost one position, and finished out the race in 5th. Not too shabby, considering…
I made my way over to the first aid tent and had the gravel scrubbed out of my knee, and then back to my car where I had a cold pack in a first aid kit which I quickly shoved into my skinsuit on my left hip. It hurt to sit, it hurt to stand, it hurt to breathe… and I had another race to do in just a few hours! I carefully changed out of my kit to give me a break from chamois time, and sat in my car trying to get some relief. Luckily the cold pack along with 800mg of ibuprofen eased the pain slightly, and I got back on my geared bike to get some food from the food truck to fuel up for the afternoon.
I really didn’t know how my women’s cat 3 race would go, and I decidedly aimed for a last place finish as that is what I’ve come to expect. Strangely enough I had a 2nd row call up. I fumbled a pedal at the start, and was 2nd to last after the first sand pit which I had been getting stuck in all day. I wasn’t discouraged, and began picking off other racers one by one, especially on corners and more “mountain bike-y” parts of the course (with moments of frustration as people rode very slowly and on the brakes over the table top jumps). I was feeling strong and powerful, helped along by my friend Suzie, who doused me in water as I came through the pits. I was going back and forth with Michelle and a few other girls, and had a sneaking feeling that I was in the top 10, but really had no idea. I came through the pits one time and someone whispered to me “you’re 8th.” Whoa, what? Turns out I was riding in 5th-8th positions the whole race in the field of 21!
The last lap my side was cramping and my injured hip bone was smarting, but I powered on. Coming down the finishing stretch I sprinted like crazy and missed 7th place by two-hundredths of a second! What a great race! I was in complete shock about where I finished in the field, though I must admit I was slightly worried that now that I would have higher expectations for all the races (easier to not care when you’re always last!). My nasty wreck in the morning made the afternoon’s results that much sweeter 🙂
A great, though painful, start to my cyclocross season! Though it’s been almost two weeks my pelvis is still very tender on the spot where I crashed onto it, but I think I’ll be alright 🙂 Racing SS and SW3 did make for a long day, so I’m not always sure I’ll double up, but at least I have that option.
I’m pretty sure my bucket list always read do the Leadville 100, not finish the Leadville 100. And I did just that! For the down and dirty, I quit at inbound Pipeline Aid Station at mile 73.5. And I’m okay with that. It started going south about mile 29 very quickly, so the fact I hung on for another 44 miles (and including the climb up Columbine which covers over 3300 feet of elevation gain in 7 miles) I think says something. Not sure what that something is, but something.
I was up stupidly early on race day, way earlier than necessary for a 6:15am start. I learned the white (aka last) corral is not a curse, as when they took down the tape and smooshed us together I was halfway up the blue corral. Whew, glad I didn’t spend a ton of money traveling to a qualifier, as it really didn’t make a difference! The start of the LT100 is the most bizarre thing ever as you hear the shotgun go off… and then you sit there. And sit some more. I checked my Garmin and we didn’t move for nearly 2 minutes after the start of the race. It was almost 5 minutes before I actually crossed the timing mat at the starting line. Not what I’m use to for sure! I was worried about the start with over 2000 people, most who are not competitive cyclists by any means and not use to fast group riding. Luckily once I crossed the starting line I was able to rapidly start picking off hundreds of people. Literally hundreds!
Once upon the dirt there were moments of frustration as everyone would come to a stop on every little tiny incline on the road. Time for more passing, and more passing, and some more passing. A gal I befriended on Facebook gave me the advice of “pass 600 people and you’ll do fine,” so I was on the path to do exactly that. I really wanted to clear the St Kevin’s climb, which starts about 5 miles in, without walking. Walking is usually “necessary” due to all the people, but I hate walking very rideable, “mild” climbs. I watched as people would bobble and fall over on 2″ high baby head rocks, and I was worried I’d have to come off the bike… but thank goodness for sketchy line choices and good bike skills, and I was motoring past people when I could, and patiently track standing when I had to! Not a step was taken off the bike the entire St Kevin’s climb!! Traffic thinned out significantly as I got to the top of that climb, and I speedily descended down.
Sugarloaf climb also went awesome, and I continued just motoring past everyone crawling on the smoothest line by taking the rough rocky lines. I had a pace chart on my top tube, and I knew I was covering ground pretty darn fast. I really didn’t give second thought to if my pace was too much, as the climbs felt ok to me and I never felt redlined. I was drinking my Tailwind quite well and also took a gel before Sugarloaf for an extra boost. The Powerline descent went ok… I took it slowly and smoothly, and soon was flying to the Pipeline aid station, where I had the crew from Peloton Cycles to assist me.
With a pee break, and a refill of my Camelback I was on my way out of Pipeline. I decided to have a Stinger Waffle, and struggled to get it down, and suddenly puked it back up around mile 29. My stomach turned and felt weird, but I just kept motoring on, though I also stopped drinking as much, as it didn’t seem appealing. There was a single track descent between two road sections (wait, it’s the ONLY single track in the whole darn race), and on a straight stretch I managed to crash… I have no idea how or why. A bunch of guys asked if I was alright, and I was except I was super embarrassed that I, Ms. Mountain Biker in a Roadie Dirt Road Race, managed to crash on single track. I got back on and kept on motoring. Coming into Twin Lakes aid station I knew I needed to try to get some food in me, but knew fruit would be about the only thing I would be able tolerate. I decided to skip neutral and go to the second Peloton tent and ask for a banana… which they didn’t have. Since anything process turned my stomach I just headed out to start the Columbine climb.
I’m not sure anything prepares anybody for the horror and hell of the Columbine climb. For years I’ve always heard “blah blah blah Laramie Enduro is harder than Leadville. Blah blah blah 40 in the Fort is harder than Leadville.” UMM… NO! There is NOT a 3300 foot climb over 7 miles in either of those races! Yes, Laramie Enduro is harder in the sense you actually have to be a mountain biker to handle the course, but never do you have the hell anywhere near what Columbine is like! I think this was one of my fatal mistakes, believing that the Laramie Enduro was truly harder. Anyways… hell. The two way traffic already started before I started the climb, though I was far ahead of any cuts and about on a 11 hour pace when I started (both male and female course records would fall). Mentally I just could not prepare to spend 2 hours and 19 minutes climbing 7 miles, and I couldn’t handle it… and I love climbing. I stopped a few times and cried. I debated turning around. I felt sick of my stomach. At tree line where the goat trail starts I began having breathing difficulties. I have no respiratory history, so I found it quite scary to be wheezing and gasping for air all the while hyperventilating. I was walking my bike, wheezing, gasping, and moist coughing (mmmm pulmonary edema) when I saw Ken Chlouber perched upon his ATV. I mouthed “I can’t breathe” to him with an expression of terror, and to my horror he laughed and said, “That’s how we designed this race. Keep moving, little girl. Dig deep!” I swear if I could breathe and had the energy he would’ve had a 25 pound Specialized Epic flying at his head.
At this point it was a hike a bike, and strangely enough it felt good to walk and stretch my leg muscles while moving at a whopping 1.9 mph, even though I couldn’t breathe. But I was mentally in the pits. I was planning on quitting on the top. Which logically would make no sense as they don’t have any support to get you back so I would’ve had to ride down. But whatever, it was my plan. I was getting annoyed by people around me, and got snappy with a guy behind me who said, “We’re almost there!” We were still 2 miles from the top, which I pointed out to him. He shut up. 2 miles meant over an hour. (Also, if I hear the term “Dig deep” once more in my life I will strangle someone… just saying) Trudge trudge trudge. Of all the “death marches” I’ve ever thought I’ve been on in a ride or a race, they just didn’t compare. This is why the Columbine climb was a good victory for me… there will never be anything I’ll run into in a standard XC race that will ever be as brutal… it has a way of making everything else seem like child’s play.
I came into the aid station still on an 11 hour split, got some Coke and immediately just broke down and sobbed. I had about 5 or so volunteers around me, hugging me, holding my bike, and shoving all sorts of food in my face which made me want to puke just at the sight of them. I agreed to watermelon, which went down ok, and then asked for some of the ramen soup they had. I drank down a cup and felt energized. One of the volunteers pointed out I was still on an amazing pace. So I begrudgingly took off, nervous for the descent. It’s rocky and loose on top, and then just steep dirt roads. I’m a wimpy descender, so needless to say I stayed in control but completely cooked my rear rotor and brand new rear brake pads. I passed by Ken on the way down… he yelled out “Hey, there you are!” and I replied “I’ve called you every bad name in the book on my way up!” and he laughed with a smile and said “Go get your buckle!”
I was feeling a lot more positive since the ramen (yay, saved by ramen at 12,500 feet!) and then about 0.5 miles from Twin Lakes I heard a metallic twang and a guy behind me yelled out “Hey, you broke a spoke!” Oh, of course my bike would decide to go break itself once I was finally not starving! The guy stopped with me since he said he was a bike mechanic, and wound it around another spoke so it wouldn’t be flying around, but told me no way could I finish without destroying my wheel. Geez, thanks for a great reason to stop! I pulled into the Peloton crew and the mechanic trued it up a bit and told me it should be ok. By then my ramen high was wearing off, my back was cramped, and my knees felt like inflamed watermelons, and I knew I had about 10 miles or so to debate what I would do. I knew what was coming after Pipeline, and frankly, I had no interest in riding it. And it wasn’t Powerline that I was dreading, it was actually the several miles of road climbing up to Carter Lake. I had no desire to ride a full suspension mountain bike up a paved climb. Weird, I know, as everyone thinks Powerline is the worse. Tossed me a road bike, and I would’ve finished. Maybe.
Funny enough, I was still on a low 11 hour pace. I was still going pretty darn quick. I rode with a guy the last few miles back into Pipeline, and he was shocked to hear that I was quitting because I was dropping him on the climbs. But I was done. I would look down and see the rear wheel wobbling (albeit not that badly) between my legs, and figured it was just good to stop while I was still not needing medical intervention and the bike was not needing expensive repairs. I thought about the final 3 XC races I have coming up this week, and knew my heart was in finishing those fast and strong, not trudging up pavement. I pulled into the tent at Pipeline at 73.5 miles and into Chris’ hug, crying. He nodded and understood that I was done. I could barely get my leg off and over my bike, and when I took my pack off my back cramped up even worse. It took a hour or so and a couple of Aleve before I could straighten my knees. I curled up in one of the camp chairs and just watched the action go by. First text was to my coach, who I felt like I was letting down. I mean, I had about 30 miles to go. I was shocked at the number of racers still flying by. I felt like I was in the bottom few, and really… I wasn’t. Second text was to my boyfriend. I opened up my phone and saw a text from him saying “You’re flying!” and it brought on more tears as I felt for a few moments that I was letting everyone down. I just DNF’d a race I was actually doing well at…
Alan offered to set me up on his bike so I could finish but I refused. I sat in the chair for two hours until time cut, and then walked down and had my wrist band cut off and timing chip removed. I got some funny looks when I explained I had been there for two hours waiting to time cut myself.
So yeah… that was my LT100 experience. I do have moments when I’m like, “dang, I should’ve finished!” but I have a lot more moments that are happy I pulled the plug. I didn’t even drink a liter of water in a good 4 hours or so and only had that dixie cup of ramen to eat. When you’re getting physically destroyed, it’s harder to stay together mentally for sure! (I had another guy tell me “You looked like warmed over death on the top of Columbine, glad to see you’re ok and still riding” a little past Twin Lakes… ok, I must’ve looked really bad.) Overall, I rode for 7 hours 55 minutes and 73.5 miles.
Now for some random thoughts:
I met Rebecca Rusch!
The Leadville Hostel was… not my cup of tea. Great to be a few blocks from the starting line, but the noise made for a lack of sleep I couldn’t handle. And I’m kinda an anti-social being, especially after physically and mentally endeavors like endurance mountain bike racing.
If I’m paying $400 to race you better give me more than a kids’ size portion of spaghetti at the pre-race dinner. I’m talking to you, LT100!
There’s some beautiful scenery, and I missed nearly all of it because I was too busy suffering to look around. I didn’t even take a photo on Columbine because I was too busy melting down.
Overall, LT100 feels like you’re in one big informercial trying to sell you stuff. Very, if not too, corporate, commercialized, and hokey.
The spectators and volunteers are amazing, however! My favorite was a little girl who yelled, “Keep it up, polka dots!” (I was wearing my polka dot gloves)
Annika Langvad kicked some major ass! She was a red blur going by on Columbine! Great to see her break the 7 hour barrier!
Full suspension. Enough said. I was wrongly told by the Internet (aka LT100 group on Facebook) that seemingly if you’re not on a hardtail you’ll be super slow and lose time. I smartly listened to my gut and rode full suspension, which I am thankful for as the course is super rough! And ummm, the top pros, including Annika, were on full suspension. I do what Annika does. 😉
I came home with four new Purist water bottles. I have an addiction
Berry Oreos are good. Butter croissants are even better to fill you up after a lack of spaghetti
I met some new people, and made a new friend, Mary Beth, who lives in New York. She invited me to come stay.
All the teenagers in Leadville have piercings and funny colored hair. Or so it seems.
After riding a bike for nearly 8 hours and not eating all day, when I get to a Subway when my appetite finally returns to the point I can try some processed food, I can’t recall what lettuce is called. I had to grunt and point at it. Seriously, mentally fried.
The finish line is flat looking in photos. It’s actually a horrible hill. I rode the last 10 mile stretch twice in the days leading up to the race. Yeah, be prepared to climb.
I don’t get how they time cut people and then provide them with no way back to the town of Leadville. I heard they tell a lady at Pipeline when she asked, “I don’t know, call someone.” What if you didn’t have someone to call?? A lot of people travel to this race alone and don’t have a crew. Luckily I had a crew (played a part in my decision to stop at Pipeline for sure), but that still doesn’t sit well for me. Take responsibility for the racers you time cut.
Unfortunately, this is the first year a participant lost their life during the race, Scott Ellis. He was on the Peloton Cycles team, so teammate to many of my friends. 55 years old, 19th time doing LT100, and had a heart attack on the top of Powerline inbound. I’m still digesting how I feel about it.
Ok ok ok… so what’s the verdict? Will be there a big redemption push like there was for the Laramie Enduro? No. It’s simply too expensive and not interesting enough for me to return. I will consider the Leadville Stage Race, as it’s more my pace of things – but once again the cost is a major factor and there’s just so many other events I could do… like 11 cyclocross races for the price of the one stage race. But I am fine skipping the hoopla that is the Leadville Trail 100. I consider it a check off my bucket list, and I got to experience the craziness of it for a few days, and do some cool stuff and meet some cool people! And I still had my victories during the race, such as climbing St Kevins and Sugarloaf like a beast, and pushing myself up Columbine when it could’ve been so easy to turn around. Like I mentioned earlier, these events have a great method of changing your perspective when doing other races, so now I will push that much harder on my shorter races, as I know it’s not going to be nearly as bad!
Ken Chlouber of Leadville fame gives a pep talk the day before LT100, and there’s a new video making the rounds where he’s talking about how the pain of a race only lasts however many hours the race is, but the pain of a DNF lasts until you can come back and redeem yourself. The Laramie Enduro this year was very much about that… well, it was only about redeeming myself (and perhaps figuring out nutrition for LT100). If there’s one day on the bike that pissed me off the most, it was DNF-ing the Laramie Enduro in 2013.
I won’t lie, it was hard this year. It hurt, sometimes very badly. I’m pretty sure around mile 12 or 14 I was thinking about just stopping. I had a good start, climbed well and faster than it seemed I had before. Racing open women has it’s perks in that the course was really clear so the first section of single track I didn’t have to worry about traffic and racers that couldn’t make the one long steep climb (and the few that walked moved quickly out of the way). I sat in 5th place until shortly after Aid 1. I was getting concerned because my heart rate was never dropping below 175-180bpm, and I knew that was just too much to sustain for this race length, even though it felt like I was pacing myself well and trying to spin easier gears. Then I started to get giddy inside that I was actually going to finish this race and finally be able to throw out this piece of baggage.
I pulled into Aid 2 and a volunteer ran off with my camelback to refill it as I stood there feeling useless – this event has AMAZING volunteers to say the least. She said I had drank 3/4 of the 100oz bladder, which I was happy to hear. I decided to give Tailwind the final trial as my main nutrition source. Overall I consumed about 6 liters of water with 18 scoops of Tailwind, two half banana slices, two slices of watermelon, 3 Endurolyte tablets, and two Honey Stinger gels! Anyways, I was quickly back on my way to enjoy the speedy downhill and tailwind to Aid 3. I crossed the half way point of 35 miles at 3 hours 13 minutes (including stopped time), and I couldn’t believe how fast it was all going by!
I came into Aid 3 and the volunteers told me I was in 4th place. Now mind you, I really had no idea where I was at this point, and I wasn’t “racing” the race. I was actually annoyed they told me, as it changed the dynamic for me from “just finish” to “hmmm, maybe try to do well.” Tim came up to me and told me “Barb is coming for you!” and that added stress. Dammit, do I actually have to race now?! After a quick watermelon slice and dumping some Tailwind into my water I had refilled at Aid 2, I was on my way, determined to not let any other open women catch me.
I came up to the 701GA climb and sternly looked it in the eye and said “701GA, you killed my mojo in 2013. Prepare to die.” Because that’s the only logical thing to say to a rutted out, eroded forest service road, right?! I walked this climb in 2013, and this year I spun my granny gear all the way to the top. I think I was smiling… which I’m sure everyone would shake their head at as nobody likes 701GA. Whatever, I did this year! I also chatted up every cow I saw on course, which was about… several hundred. People commented that they had issues with the cows moving for them, but I just politely asked the cows to move and they did. Not only do I talk to forest service roads and threaten to kill them, I’m also a cow whisperer.
Things continued to go well and soon enough the bits of single track were over and it was time for another never ending grind on double track and primitive roads up to Aid 4. Aid 4… my nemesis. The point where I called my parents to come pick me up in 2013. As long as I moved my bike past Aid 4 I knew my day was complete. I got an amazing surprise as I came up to the road crossing and saw Jim on the side of the road, there to surprise me! I’m not kidding when I say I almost peed my pants in happiness! Few sips of cold water and a hug, and he set me off on my way with a “you’re in 6th or 7th” place! I just lost it. Seeing Aid 4, seeing him, feeling the support, I bawled all the way to the aid station. Goodness endurance mountain biking turns me into a mush ball!
Quick refill of the Camelbak at Aid 4 and I set off. OK, here it goes… 18 miles left! The Laramie Enduro is a mean bitch, though, as she puts all the hardest stuff in the last 18 miles. Because there’s nothing like having to have technical skills at mile 65 of a 68 mile race… The first few miles went OK, but soon stuff turned into long conga line hike-a-bikes up steep hills, and then not so steep hills. It was hot, hovering around 90 degrees with no wind. I actually complained about there not being wind! Also the swear words and name calling of hills began. Aid 4 to Aid 5 on the course is simply mental demoralizing (and for some, physically demoralizing, too). My granny gear became intolerable to turn over and I felt ruined. Nonetheless, I repeated “Keep moving” in my head, whether it was on foot or on bike. I stopped on one rutted out hill that bucked me off course and cried for 10 seconds out of frustration and then ate a gel for a bit of a caffeine boost. It seemed like Aid 5 would never come, and of course you had to climb a bunch to get there.
Jim was waiting for me at Aid 5, and of course I started crying again as he hugged me and gave me more cold water before shooing me back on my bike. Six miles was left… a horrid six miles. Jim drove behind me on Headquarters Rd up to the trailhead for motivation and then I waved goodbye as I turned onto Headquarters Trail. The most frustrating part of the rest of the course is that I’m super familiar with it all. I ride and race on it all the time. I know how fast I can ride each part. Headquarters Climb is a toughy, but I’ve always cleared it. I found myself walking and it was humbling because I know what I normally can do, but with 65 miles under my belt I knew what was suddenly impossible, but it bothered me terribly that it was impossible. I dragged myself and bike up the climb, step after step, finally remounting at the junction with Browns Landing. OK, mostly downhill from here. But technical. Ugh. I felt like I was going so slow, and I really was in all honesty.
I got caught on a root on a small kicker and fell over and just sat in the trail for a minute or two. It felt good to sit. I hadn’t sat all day on something other than a bike seat! But I knew I had to get it over with because it was so close to the finish. I tried to power on as much as I could, and soon I was descending the single track to the trailhead and down the dirt road to the finish line. Funny enough, I had been pushing the granny gear slowly for the past two hours, and yet I was turning the big chain ring and almost my hardest gear sprinting down the finishing straight. Ummm, really?!
7 hours 43 minutes 36 seconds. 6th Place Open Women.
I did it 🙂
I crossed the line and looked around and felt lost. It was all over. A guy who knew me through a friend came over and asked how I did and I started crying. Nice impression I made on him, I’m sure. It was overwhelming but so relieving. That’s it… the DNF Pain of 2013 was gone. I came back and kicked the course’s ass and proved that I could do it – it took me 7 hours to reach Aid 4 in 2013, and 7 hours and 43 minutes to do the whole damn thing this year! Now it was time for staring down food not sure I could eat it (I wasn’t hungry), wondering when I’d finally pee, and to double fist a beer in one hand and a lemonade in another!
Two weeks before what will be the hardest day on a bike for me I squashed the mental demons that taunted me since July 2013. I’m so happy it’s over. I have no plans for another Laramie Enduro because I feel like my work is done for now. I am happy with how the day went, especially since it came at the end of the week of my transition to night shift and a couple of missed workouts and not a single day on a bike over 5 hours all year. It’s been hard to keep my mental drive going this late into the summer, as I’m use to calling it quits after a nationals in mid-July, but this was a good boost and also foreshadowing of what’s to come during the LT100. Goodness, I can’t wait to return to strictly XCO racing next year!