Adventure weekend! Colorado Trail & Mount Yale

Because adventures in the mountains sound so much better than racing a hill climb!

When my new friend Lydia asked if anybody wanted to join her last weekend on a 14er hike I jumped at the chance, as I’ve been saying for years every summer that I’d climb a 14er.  With an iffy forecast we set out for Camp Hale north of Leadville early Saturday morning to ride the Colorado Trail from Camp Hale to Holy Cross Wilderness.  Luckily the weather remained goregous!

Camp Hale was part of the 10th Mountain Division training grounds during WWII.  At the end of our ride we spent several miles riding around looking at the ruins and reading the information signs that were around.

Can’t say I see this warning too often on a mountain bike ride

Ruins of bunkers at Camp Hale

This segment of the Colorado Trail was absolutely amazing!  The Camp Hale trail marathon was going on, so our first few miles were shared with trail runners, but soon we had the trails all to ourselves.  The trail gradually climbed up to Tennessee Pass, where we got to PET LLAMAS!  Tomas and Carlos had just finished up a 115 mile hike with their humans.  I love llamas, so this was definitely a highlight for me!

Carlos and Tomas!

We crossed the highway to get a photo with the pass sign

Flowy single track through green scenery

Parts of the trail had it’s share of chunk!

Looking for trolls!

We stopped short of the wilderness boundary as the trail turned quite rocky and hike-a-bike.  We didn’t quite realize how much climbing we had done until we turned around and absolutely flew all the way back to our cars!  With the riding around Camp Hale, the ride came in at 30 miles with just about 3000 feet of climbing.  Amazing day adventuring on the bikes with no pressure of going fast!

We swung through Leadville for some dinner, and then continued onto Buena Vista for a quick grocery store stop and then up Cottonwood Pass where we would car camp and get an early start on our Mount Yale hike

My new Fozzy makes an excellent tent! I am just barely too tall to comfortably lay straight out, but I slept pretty damn well considering! Oh, and I learned how to set off my own car alarm… whoops

5:30am came quickly and we got dressed in the chilly morning air and ate a quick snack before setting out.  Once again the forecast had called for iffy weather, so we hit the trail at exactly 6am in hopes of beating any bad storms.  First thing we noticed was how damn steep the trail is… Mount Yale is no joke in the case of steepness!

Steepness can be overlooked with scenes like this!

No really, this is so awful looking. Never hike a 14er in Colorado!

Getting ready to scramble

We took our time summiting, stopping for snacks and to rest.  Finally we reached the top, and it was so freaking amazing!  The weather was great, with barely any wind and mild temperatures (for being at 14,200 feet!)

Summit-hiking boot shot

A guy loaned us his cardboard sign, so had to take the opportunity to look like a typical Coloradoan!

I’m on a mountain selfie!

PB&J at 14,200

After enjoying a quick lunch on the summit we headed down.  Going down is what I dreaded the most as it’s so hard on the knees (and whole body as I would learn).  We found it easier at times to run, though it was difficult in big clunky hiking boots.  I see the appeal in trail running a 14er now for sure!  The last few miles were tough, and Lydia and I were total chatter boxes on the climb up and nearly silent the last few miles!  I limped behind, totally not enjoying myself, but as soon as I saw my car I felt so accomplished!

I’ve done two 14ers, Mount Evans and Pikes Peak, via road bike and found that to be easier in a sense than hiking them.  Plus the elevation didn’t bother me (backed by heart rate and power data) until about the 13,000 foot mark.  Hiking was a different story… my fingers and hands swelled considerably and I had a headache on the summit and it remained until I was below tree line.  I think hiking must use more muscles and oxygen demand was higher?  And my dumbass purposely did not bring my trekking poles… I should’ve!

Total trip was 9.7 miles with 4,326 feet of elevation gain!  Max elevation of course was the summit at 14,200 feet.  Starting point was about 9,925 feet according to my Garmin.  Not too shabby!  Total time with stops was 7 hours 15 minutes, with a moving time of 4 hours 3 minutes.

I’ve already started planning future hiking trips even though I’m still oh so sore!  Best way to prevent soreness is to do a lot of it, right?!  😀

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It’s not just about the bike.

Scrambling my way to the top of Mount Yale

Cycling has done incredible things for my life… from fitness and health to crazy adventures and places I never would’ve been, it’s been a great ride the last 5 years.  However, due to a character flaw of mine where I have to take something, and then take it to the extreme, in a way I lost myself over the last 5 years.  Riding a bike that was originally purchased to get me outside and exploring turned into racing full race schedules of both mountain bike and cyclocross, with a decent spring road season thrown in.  Goal was cat 1 license… then pro license… then a UCI points chase to become World Cup eligible.  I struggled to juggle life, the bike, goals, and missing out.  Missing out.  Missing out on fun rides because they wouldn’t be the “right” type of training, missing out on funner races because another race was somehow a better puzzle piece to the wannabe pro racer life, missing out on other adventures for fear of injury/taking time away from the bike, missing out on just hanging out.  Dealing with guilt.  Guilt when I didn’t ride, when I didn’t ride how I was suppose to ride, when I didn’t want to drag myself to another race.

Then 2017 came.  I didn’t train like I usually do, but was still reaching FTP goals.  Then I got sick for well over a month in the spring which knocked me on my ass.  Nonetheless, I had a crazy successful road season in my first go as a cat 3.  But I wasn’t happy.  I had to sit down and revaluate what I wanted from a bicycle.  I realized I liked the IDEA of racing a World Cup more than actually putting in the money time, effort to try to actually do so.  I liked the IDEA of racing constantly but when it came down to it, the travel, time, money was tiresome.  I was sick of putting guilt on myself when I didn’t ride.  I hated feeling like I was expected, though not sure by who, to show up at certain races or perform a certain way.  So I stopped.  My mountain bike race calendar got chopped to fewer and fewer races.  Sometimes I rode like shit (Gunnison Half Growler), sometimes there was the flicker of a well trained pro license holder (Erock Sunrise to Sunset).  I decided to not show up to a Laramie Mountain Bike Series race unless I truly wanted to (4 races into the 6 race series and I haven’t been to a single one).  I wasn’t racing any road hill climbs, even though I am a current national champion in that discipline.  I decided if my heart wasn’t into it, I wouldn’t do it.  If I decided I wanted to run a 5k instead of riding on a weekend, I would.  I would take chances, experience new things.

I remember reading a blog years and years ago when I first started riding by an up and coming U23 pro mountain biker, and how she described just walking away from pro cycling after Sea Otter one year and I remember being so confused and couldn’t understand why anyone would do that.  I judged her pretty hard honestly, mostly because at that time I would’ve given anything to be racing at world championship events and living the pro life.  But I get it now, though I was nowhere near her level.

It’s not just about the bike.  I am more than a bicycle.

I can’t say whether this is a permanent change or just a relief from the past several years of heavy racing and training schedules.  But I’m liking it, and doing some new things!  I’ve actually gone for a run at 6:15am.  I’ve climbed a 14er on foot after setting that goal 5 years ago.  I’ve gone on some long mountain biking adventures and petted llamas and ignored Strava.  I’ve camped in Mr. Fozzy for other reasons than a bike race.  I’ve mowed my lawn and watered it faithfully instead of letting it burn up because I needed to be riding a bike instead of moving a sprinkler around every 30 minutes.  I’ve lived a more normal life where riding a bike is a part of it, NOT my entire life.

I’m looking forward to a healthier balance on racing, with a bit of Steamboat Stinger thrown in as a duo and hopefully actually enjoying Dakota 5-O this year versus just going through the motions.  Naturally, I am tentatively planning on a full cyclocross season because cross is cross and cross is awesome, but really I am not committing to anything at this point.  I actually am considering a trail running race even!

2017 Preview

2017 race season is upon me… dang, that snuck up fast!!

It’s time to announce the wonderful partners I have for my 2017 season!

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First up, my team for 2017, 9seventy Racing!  We are a multisport team based out of Fort Collins, CO.  I joined in September 2016 and instantly loved the small, close knit feel of this team.

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This winter fat biking was made that much more awesome thanks to my lightweight, carbon Dirt Components Thumper wheels!

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So honored and excited to be a Tailwind Trailblazer for the second year!  I just wrote a blog post about my experience with Tailwind Nutrition and how it has helped fuel me for all my cycling adventures.

 

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Back again for 2017 is ESI Grips, the best handlebar grips ever!

 

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I was selected to a be 2017 Pearl Izumi Ambador, which is all about taking the ass out of ambassador and spreading the love for all things bike related, looking great while doing it!  Pearl Izumi’s gear was some of the first items I got way back when I started riding, and I’m happy to be able to now represent them!

So what does 2017 have in store for me?

Off the bat this weekend is the Frostbite Time Trial, the annual foray into pain caving!  I purchased a new-to-me time trial bike over the winter, and look forward to killing my legs over the course of 30 minutes (and getting to wear my “alien helmet”!).

I’ve had about 15 different plans for my 2017 race season, depending on mood and how my training was going.  There hasn’t been a whole lot of training going on compared to previous years, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, either.  Due to our unseasonable weather I have been able to get in some good outdoor rides, including two runs up Rist Canyon where I’ve taken over 8 minutes off my personal best on the climb!

So far the plan that is sticking is to focus on longer, marathon mountain bike races.  Gunnison Half Growler, Laramie Enduro, and Dakota Five-O are on tap, and will be supplemented with Battle the Bear, Casper Mountain Challenge (8 hour version), Steamboat Stinger (duo), and possibly Ridgeline Rampage.  I will do a handful of road events, including the CSU Cobb Lake Road Race and Boulder Roubaix.  It’s taking shape!

Understanding in a bike crash… 7 months later.

I feel like there’s very little discussion of concussions in cycling, especially on the XC mountain bike side.  It’s almost alarming how many people talk about “Oh, I whacked my head” so casually.  So I thought I needed to share my thoughts and experience.

I’m now over 7 months out from the fateful day of June 18, 2016.  The day of the Dad Dog Road Race, a race I really really really wanted to win in my hometown, and had an excellent chance of winning until an inexperienced male racer swerved for a flat, dead crow in the middle of the road while the peloton was traveling 30mph.  I talked about my immediate post-crash assessment in this blog post.

What my blog posts reflect through the summer is a determined cyclist riding and racing on, climbing on a road bike less than 24 hours later while STILL ON CRUTCHES, and racing her mountain bike three days later.  What I was going through was a different story.

I worked as an RN in orthopedics and neurology/neurosurgery for over 3 years.  I have just enough knowledge and experience to be dangerous.  I should’ve known to be smarter in my recovery, but in all honesty we don’t get too many concussion only injuries on the unit.  After all, I just had a concussion.  Just a concussion.

First began the sleep difficulties.  I was working night shift at the time, but years of doing it left my body accustomed to sleeping at weird times, and I had been off of all sleep aids (melatonin and prescription Ambien) for months.  The night after the crash I could not sleep.  I closed my eyes and I could feel my head smashing into the ground.  It’s actually a sensation I still feel time to time.  Aside from reliving the unpleasant memory, I just flat out couldn’t sleep.  I was exhausted, yawning, so tired, but sleep would not come to me.  This grew into a problem that plagued me for months, and I had to resort back to sleep medications on most days/nights to get a good amount of sleep.  I am just starting to be able to sleep naturally, and luckily a change to a normal job schedule should help this further.

The crash was on Saturday, and I was scheduled to return to work on Thursday night.  All that week I was in a fog, and there’s a lot of events and conversations and going-ons that I have no recollection of.  Though I have full memory of the crash and most of the immediate post crash activities (highway patrol tending to me, ambulance ride), I don’t remember big parts of the next few weeks afterwards.  I arrived to work on Thursday night, sat in the break room, and had no idea how I got to work and why I was there.  It was frightening.  I received report on my patients, and a day shift nurse confided in my friend and charge nurse, “Is Heidi mad at me?  She didn’t seem to be paying attention during report.”  Nichole informed her I had hit my head and had a concussion.  By 9pm I told Nichole I needed to go home.  The fog was so thick I was in tears trying to figure out how many hours I had been at work to record in our payroll book.  I could not figure out that 7pm to 10pm was 3 hours.  I was counting on my fingers and coming up with all sorts of crazy things.  I would end up missing another night of work.

No one warned me about the cognition changes.  Difficulty thinking, figuring out things like simple math, and making coherent sentences.  But it was alright, because I was back to winning mountain bike races…  My emotions and moods were labile.  I was all over the place.  Irritable.  Grumpy.  Giddy.  Unpredictable.  I ended long relationships.  I bought a new race mountain bike.  Apathy.  Apathy was the scariest.  I didn’t care if I rode bikes again, I didn’t care about washing dishes.  I just didn’t care.

I’ve never been the type to get headaches, and the headaches were excruciating in the period after the concussion, and I still have them occasionally to this day.  It’s not the type that tylenol helps with, it’s more the type that a dark room and bed can only solve.  And time.  Lots of time.

Bright lights.  Loud noises.  Just can’t do them.  I’m starting an office job and I’m terrified of the fluorescent lighting.  I hope they don’t mind me moving in lamps.  Smells that never use to bother me (which dealing with smells is important as a hospital RN), motion… now churn my stomach.  I just got back from my first airplane trip since the crash, and I have never been so sick on a plane in my life during the descent into Orlando, and there was no reason for me to be (no turbulence).

The physical aspects are getting better.  What isn’t is the fear.  I become paralyzed with fear of crashing on a bike.  During Cross of the North’s nighttime open race a young racer went over her bars in front of me and I stopped and starting choking up with tears.  I panicked.  I could once again feel the sensation of my head hitting the ground.  Luckily she recovered okay, and I finished not last in the race.  Later in cyclocross season a few of us were hanging out watching a men’s upper category and there was a crash during the start.  I froze up.  I felt tears in my eyes.  I became incredibly freaked out.    And this is the most awful thing.  I don’t know how to get over it.  I don’t know how to get that head smashing sensation out of my brain.  I finally went on my first group ride a few weekends ago with three guys I fully trust.  You know where I rode?  Off the back and off the pace line so I could see the road in front of me.  I tried riding in a nice pace line, but I couldn’t mentally handle not being able to see the road in front of me, even though I knew these guys would point out any obstacles.  People might say I just need to jump in and do it more, but I don’t know how I’m suppose to accomplish that if I can’t do it with people I trust, let alone with people I don’t.

People don’t talk about these things.  I’ve only found one blog written by Kate Ginsbach, that describes dealing with the aftermath of a concussion.  It was actually a great read for me, knowing that others out there kinda struggled with similar issues.  Looking back I know I should’ve let my brain rest.  I’ve attended a neuro-trauma conference this past fall that taught me all about concussions, and I pretty much did everything wrong.  I shouldn’t have been pushing to race so soon afterwards (but even my parents admit they knew I wouldn’t take being told no, and since the mountain bike racing is unsanctioned there’s no USAC officials to ban me from racing).

What I am thankful for is a really good helmet.  If there’s anything I’ve taken a crash course in, it’s helmet technology!

These are just a summary of my thoughts and experiences since my concussion.  Luckily most of the physical effects are gone, and I just have to work through the mental problems of the fear of crashing again and learning to trust in a road racing situation.

(A follow up to the other injuries:  my left shoulder bicep tendon was split like string cheese.  I finished over 2 months of physical therapy, and regained a decent amount of my range of motion, until I crashed at the state cyclocross fat bike race and reinjured it.  My left calf muscle strain is all good, and the road rash gave me scars that impress no one.)

Try skate skiing, they said. It’ll be fun and easy, they said.

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Turns out I’m way worse at skate skiing than I could ever imagine.

You see them… gliding so effortlessly across the snow.  Swish swish swish.  So speedy and sexy!  Skate skiing turns out just looks really effortless, and it’s not always speedy, and flailing around probably doesn’t look that sexy.  I picked up some nice skis at a swap this fall, and was super excited for some snowfall so I could conquer my newest sporting adventure, and give me some cross training instead of riding the trainer.

Holy hell.

I can ride/race a bike for 5-6 hours straight.  I cannot make it more than 20 feet up a hill on skate skis without having to stop, totally out of breath.  Everything hurt… ankles burned.  Ankles, what are ankles?!  Don’t need no stinkin’ ankles for riding a bike.  Ow, what are these thigh muscles that are burning under my cycling-defined quads?  Bend my knees?!  Who needs to bend their knees and support body weight?!

ARGHHH.

Skate skiing.  The most humbling thing I’ve decided to undertake maybe ever.

I was on cross country skis as a toddler, and really anything ski related always came naturally to me as a child.  First down on alpine skis and I graduated from beginner lessons to advanced and was bombing black diamond trails with moguls.  I spent most of my winter afternoons racing along my long cross country ski track I had made behind my house in the mountains.  I went from about age 14 through 29 or so without touching my skis, but the handful of times when I went back out on my classic skis it seemingly went well, and though I found new muscles, I had fun.  So this year I decided skate skiing would be something I would add in as good training, another way to enjoy the snow, and a new sport to begin racing in (because I can’t do anything without it being competitive, clearly).

I’ve had several people tell me it takes ten years to master skate skiing.  I now believe them!

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But I’m trying!  Despite a massive hole torn in my inner left foot from a blister (because silly me thought ski boots required massively thick winter wool socks like my winter cycling shoes do), I kept at it.  I took a few lessons over Christmas, which was helpful in learning that, well, I have work to do.  Which best tip ever… take lessons!

I finally conquered a 5 mile skate ski yesterday.  It hurt and I was hobbling by the end due to my bloody blister.  I was happy that I made it up some tough hills (tough enough hills that I would even groan about riding a bike up them), and handled some pretty not-so-good trail conditions.  I did use poles because I wouldn’t have made it up some of those hills without them (but otherwise I’m still suppose to be without poles, whoops).  I still don’t know how people pull off doing 10+ miles in under an hours.  Took me about 1 hour 20 minutes to do five with all my stopping.

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Keep on keepin’ on.

January 14th I’m jumping into a race at Happy Jack.  Because there is no learning like the learning that takes place during a race.  I’m aiming for the 5k distance, though the 10k is tempting since it’ll be “ok” if I go slower (right?).  The winners last year of the 5k did it in something like 25 minutes, and I’m betting on an hour to finish.  Wait for me guys, I swear I’m coming!!  Save some hot chocolate!

Oh boy.  And I thought mountain biking was hard.

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2016 Race Wrap-Up

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Photo by Pax Tolosi

States Raced In: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, South Dakota, & Florida
# of Races: 18 mountain bike, 3 road, 20 cyclocross
# of Wins: 5 (MTB), 4 (CX), 1 (Road)
# of Top 5: 13 (MTB), 2 (road),  14 (CX)
# of Beverage Drinking Devices Won: Yep, I am STILL winning bottles and coffee mugs, after all these years!

  • I spent so much time in 2016 being negative about my race season that I missed seeing how great it was actually going.  Perhaps this was a blessing, as finishes like the Tatanka 50k came as an amazingly happy surprise, and I had no expectations going into Hill Climb Nationals.  But I even got sick of hearing myself bitch about how “terrible” of a season I was having.  I don’t know why I let the Florida Cup deliver such a devastating blow to my cycling confidence so early in the season.  I totally lost perspective on the whole thing.

2016 Hill Climb National Champion – Masters Women 30-39
2016 Laramie Mountain Bike Series Overall Winner – Open Women
2016 Colorado Cross Cup – 2nd Place – Singlespeed Women
2016 Rocky Mountain Regional Cyclocross Champion – Singlespeed Women

  • Those highlights above show why 2016 was an amazing year, even if I wasn’t training like I was in 2015.
  • If anything, 2016 was the year of overcoming obstacles.  I decided to take responsibility for my own training.  Sure, that led to me not riding as much as 2015 and spending a lot of time being utterly lazy, but I did spend a lot more time on the mountain bike and the proof was in more confident descending and ever improving technical skills.  Going into the meat of my mountain bike season two days post-concussion with a strained calf muscle and a tendon split in my shoulder was not how I planned things on going, but I fought through it (even though I will NEVER advocate racing with a concussion.  I didn’t make the best decisions in that time period – one of them being getting on a mountain bike in a race two days later).  I guess in a way I don’t know when to quit!
  • I still can’t describe what winning the Hill Climb National Championships on Pikes Peak means to me.  I still get teary eyed thinking about it.  It’s like everything was coming full circle.  I won’t lie, I thought about never racing after that day ever again because it seemed like such a good capstone on this cycling craziness.
  • On the lighter side, beer hands, even at 10:30am, are amazing!  So was the Bacon Station during Dakota 5-O.  I’m pretty sure that was the only reason that kept me going in that race!

So 2017… well, I’m already registered for the Gunnison Half Growler, as I just find that race so darn amazing!  Other than that I haven’t really thought about what I will or will not race.  I have thrown around the idea of tackling the Double Triple Bypass, which is some 240 miles and 20,000+ feet of climbing over two days in the mountains of Colorado.  Tour de Wyoming starts and ends in Cheyenne, and that’s tempting (and a damn cheap way to do a bike tour!).  As you can see, it might be a lot less of competitive events, and more experiences.  I’m so exhausted from my most intensive cyclocross season yet that I haven’t started a formal training plan or done a new FTP test.  I think I need a bit of downtime to refocus and recover.  2017 is also the Year of Iceland, so a lot of focus and money is going towards that amazing trip!

Switching it up

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When I posted up that I had randomly registered for a 5k on Facebook several people asked me if I was ill.

Good thing I wasn’t really kidnapped, or ill, or running against my will because no one came to save me!

I don’t know, maybe I’m just flat burnt out on cycling.  So my mind has been wandering to other things I could do, and I’ve been spending a lot of time being lazy.  In August I randomly decided to go swimming for the first time in three years, and surprised myself by swimming 1000 meters, which was way above and beyond what I had ever done before.  I had to rest a lot, and I was out of breath, but it felt fun to do something a bit different, especially since it is considerably easy to do after work.  Unfortunately I have been dealing with pretty severe shoulder pain since my road race crash in June, so I only gave swimming a go twice before I decided to seek out medical advice on my shoulder.

So the natural progression was to randomly start running, which is another thing I have not done since 2013.  OK, not very smart to go couch-to-5k in a span of an instant, but hey, that’s my style!  Randomly registered for Cheyenne’s Freedom 5k on a Friday afternoon, and found myself pinning a race number on by 8am Saturday morning.  Luckily my friend Gretchen was also running, so I had someone to hang out with (and her two adorable Italian Greyhounds).

Starting off near the front I looked down in the first quarter mile and saw a 7:30 pace on my Garmin and freaked out.  My previous 5k times (as an adult) were 33:50 and 35:49, so I knew a 7:30 pace was not sustainable in any sense, especially since I DO NOT RUN.  I really wanted to break a 30 minute 5k, so I tried to settle in the 9:45-9:50 pace range.  Oh boy, did it hurt.  My legs, conditioned by 3 years of strictly cycling, were very confused on what to do.  I actually asked a bystander with a bike at one point if I could borrow it, they told me it would be cheating.  Ha!

Coming down the final block was amazing, but my competitive edge took over and I looked behind me and then started sprinting so no one else would pass me.  Considering I spent the entire race going backwards through the field, I really wanted to finish “strong,” whatever that would be.  I’m sure I look like a dying giraffe while trying to run regardless!  I cross the finish at 28:45.  Instantly my legs locked up; not cramping really, just didn’t want to move.  I stumbled over to see that I finished 86th overall (out of 186), and found Gretchen and collapsed onto the ground.  I was super happy to have taken 5 minutes off my 5k PR with absolutely no running training, but HOLY HELL IT HURT.  Seriously, sign me up for a 50 mile mountain bike race or a jaunt up Pikes Peak on a road bike any day over a 5k!

Later in the day and the next day were absolutely miserable as every single muscle that isn’t used in a pedaling motion rioted against what had happened to them.  From my ankles to my butt I winced in pain as I attempted to hobble around.  My friend Nichole remarked on my “8 months pregnant waddle” I had going on at work that night!  Five days out and I’m just left with very tight and occasionally crampy hamstrings.  Which makes me wonder…

What could running be like if I, you know, trained?

Hmmm…

Cross training is good.  Like I mentioned earlier, aside from a triathlon and a handful of days running in 2013 and XC skiing once this past winter, I have done nothing but pedal a bicycle for years.  Across different disciplines, but still a bicycle.  I’ve had the highest highs and lowest lows on a bicycle, but unfortunately this year have struggled with motivation and coming out of a serious crash.  I’ve really started to re-evaluate what I want out of competitive cycling, at least over the course of the next year as I analyze if I could return to structure training with commitment and motivation to follow through.  So maybe switching up stuff could go good.  As I slip further into laziness and sedentary habits, I know anything that gets me up and moving will be a good idea and preserve fitness as well.

So I’ll see where this leads!

Race Report: Tatanka Point to Point 50k

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Goodness, I am still so excited about this race!!!!

So I have some “rules:”

  • I don’t do heat
  • I am not an endurance mountain bike racer.  I am a 80-100 minute XCO racer.

The Tatanka 50k involved both things that break my rules… predicted 95 degree weather and 35 miles of South Dakota single track.  But I signed up regardless, as I know the Black Hills are gorgeous and I figured it would be a good teaser for September’s Dakota 5-O.  I vowed I’d survive and at least enjoy the sights as I suffered.

Since the NUE series now has a marathon category some heavy hitting pros are coming out, so I knew a podium probably would not happen (probably).  Waiting around for the noon start was pretty tortuous, and we all were talking about the heat as we fought for shade at the Piedmont elementary school we were starting at.  The start was a few miles of “neutral” roll out (these things are never neutral… my heart rate was pegged and I was getting gapped) before we turned onto a bit up gravel up Dalton Creek to the single track that would tie us into the Aid Station #3, meeting the epic (80 mile) course racers and the Centennial Trail which would take us back to Sturgis.

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6 miles in at the first aid station on my course! (Photo Milissa Melle)

The sun was beating down on us, and I know my Garmin said 108 degrees at the start (Karen’s even read 111!), as we climbed up the gravel.  It hurt as I struggled to warm up my legs and figure out how this whole day would go.  I came into the aid station at 6 miles in with rather good spirits, and topped off my bottle since it would be a grueling 14 miles until I could get water again.  The starting climbs on the Centennial Trail were tough, and I made friends with my small chainring, and had some mental talk about how I cannot go to a 1x drivetrain on my next XC race bike purchase.

We came to a summit, and I caught a good rhythm, and we popped out onto some fire road.  I was sitting in 4th place, which I was quite pleased about.  Unfortunately, I got a little too complacent on the fire road descent, and blew past the turn back onto the trail.  My mistake would add about 1.5 miles.  I finally realized my mistake when I hadn’t seen a “bull’s head” trail marker in awhile, and I heard voices above me in the trees on the hillside.  I turned around and frantically began climbing on pure adrenaline, swearing up a storm.  I came upon the turn just as another gal was turning onto it and I get even more pissed that I had given away race positions.  I race on many courses that I am super familiar with, or that are all taped off, so I got a bit relaxed in paying attention to the course markings… can’t blame anyone but myself.  Luckily I re-passed that gal rather quickly and settled into trying to make up time for my mistake, unsure how many other women were able to gain spots on me.

The single track of the Centennial Trail is just amazing… well maintained, beautiful, and fun!  Though I did realize that riding on a bed of pine needles is soul sucking as it absorbs your speed, so sections where you’d expect high speeds you really felt like you were struggling to keep moving.  My legs had come under me and felt strong and happy.  I was carrying one bottle of plain water and then a 2L Camelback with Tailwind caffeinated green tea endurance fuel.  Due to the heat everything was so warm, but I’ve discovered that the green tea flavor remains very palatable at hot temps.  I reminded myself to drink often.  Surprisingly, I wasn’t really feeling the heat and it was pushed out of my mind, especially once we had cloud cover.  The climbs are rewarded with long, fast downhills.  I settled in with a guy who was playing music, which was actually enjoyable.  I kept asking if he wanted around on the descents, but he sat in, and got to witness my sketchy downhill switchback riding!  I had one near wreck on a switchback, but managed to unclip a foot and keep it all upright (skillz, yo).  The descents were so long my feet would start to ache and hands cramp up, and I joked that “what goes down, must come up!” as we began climbing again.

Up, down, up, down through the shade of the pines in the Black Hills.  I began to notice the strangest thing happening… I was passing other racers.  In endurance races I spend my time going backwards through the field, with people always catching and passing me.  But it wasn’t happening during this race!  It was so surreal!  It really lit my fire, kept me motivated.  Holy sh!t, I am having a really great day! I thought to myself.  On an ascent I caught a glimpse at another woman I recognized from the start line, and I silently swore as I realized I was at least in 5th place.  So I vowed to try to catch her.

The trail finally came to the creek bottom, and the weeds and plant life were taller than me (someone later told me we were riding through a field of poison ivy… oh, so that’s what it looks like…).  It made for some sketchy riding, as you couldn’t see stumps and rocks alongside the very narrow trail that could be trying to catch a wheel or pedal, and with limited visibility you’d find yourself spat out onto a dry creek bed without much warning.  Luckily all the stream crossings were dry, as some years it’s waist deep (which would be a nightmare situation for me and my fear of water).  However, they remained tricky to cross, with mobile basketball sized rocks to try to ride across, most slimy with moss that made them slippery.  I had to get off a couple of times for 10-20 feet, but nothing too bad.  Finally a sign appeared stating it was one mile until the trailhead, which is where the final aid station would be located.

Coming up to the Elk Creek aid station they had placed super cute signs advertising what there was.  My favorite one said “Choco Latte Milk!!” which made me laugh, as the idea of chocolate milk was completely unappealing at the moment, but it was fun to let it roll off my tongue several times… choco latte, choco latte!  Upon pulling into the aid station, amid cheers from the volunteers, I spotted the women I had been chasing, relaxing and hanging out.  As a volunteer placed a heavenly-cold bandana around my neck I filled my bottle, topped off my Camelback, and downed half a can of ice cold Coke (my only non-Tailwind thing consumed!).  I didn’t want to waste any time, so I thanked the volunteers, strapped my pack back on, and got moving to more cheers of encouragement – “Only 17 more miles, mostly downhill!”

I was 19 miles in and feeling great.

Surreal.

I found myself out of the saddle attacking climbs.  I came across more racers, marathon and epic both, walking their bikes on climbs and I powered past them.  I had spied the other lady out of the corner of my eye leaving the aid station, so I knew she’d was back there.  Out of the saddle, spin those legs, attack attack attack!  The clouds had moved in and thunder rolled, cooling the temps to the high 70s/low 80s.  The wind picked up and it felt great to have circulating air after the stifling creek bed jungle of poisonous plants and who knows what creepy crawly critters.  I passed another guy, and found myself on a summit, and settled in for a lonely 7 miles of riding by myself, including about 3 miles of straight descending.

My wrists hurt, my feet screamed.  I was so thankful that I had replaced my worn, bald tires, and that Anthony installed a new rear brake rotor for me, as I needed all the help I could get!  I still descended within my means, knowing that I didn’t want to crash.  The dark storm darkened the already shady trails.  I became hyper focused on the trail markers, not wanting to miss another turn.  I let out some hoots and hollers and began talking to myself as some weird delirium had begun to set in.

The trail turned up again to top out at the “Bulldog.”  I was amazed at how fast the last 17 miles were flying by – that volunteer didn’t lie!  The climb was TOUGH… averaging 13%, with many steeper sections.  I vowed to stay pedaling, passing two more racers who cheered me on as I let out some incomprehensible groan of pain as I granny-grinded up the whole thing!  Whole damn thing!!!  Who was this person riding my bike?!  This isn’t the non-endurance racer Heidi who can’t race in heat!

About this time I started seeing things.  Legit seeing things!  Black bears for tree stumps… lawn gnomes.  Focus Heidi.  I eyed the storm clouds, and begun to worry about my tent blowing away back at Hog Heaven Campground.  Gotta pedal faster, gotta save my tent!  I had already spent a few hours cussing myself out about missing that one turn, so at least I was worrying about something else.  My precious tent! Underwear and sleeping bag flying through the air!  Hurry, time to descend Bulldog quickly… gotta save my tent!

Plop… out onto the prairie.  I could see I-90.  Oh my gosh, getting so close!  Second bobble of the day, almost fell off on of the super high cattle guard gates, but I caught myself.  Laughed with a sprint distance racer about how scary the I-90 tunnel was.  Turned onto the power line climb and saw within striking distance the kit of my competitor.  It clicks… OH HELL NO I AM NOT LOSING THIS POSITION!  I downshifted into a tough gear.  It was a long, power climb.  I’m a power climber.  I can put down the serious watts and I told myself that I could do it, that I wasn’t feeling pain (which I wasn’t, my legs were still feeling completely fresh).  Once again I was out of the saddle, forcing myself to go faster.  As I turned onto the Fort Meade single track I checked behind me and all I saw was a male epic racer.  OK… time to focus.  The single track was sandy and loose and you had to take the descents with care.  This was no time to lose my race, getting careless while descending.

Finally the Sturgis bike path appeared.  Home stretch!  This is about the time I felt the first ping of hunger. Wow, my nutrition was on point!  I regrouped with the epic rider and we chatted as we rolled towards the park, by the track, and into the finishing straight.

4 hours 34 minutes 23 seconds.

I HAD RACED AN ENDURANCE RACE.  THE HEAT DID NOT BOTHER ME.  I BROKE BOTH MY RULES.

Pretty much I was bouncing off the walls with excitement.  I just couldn’t believe it!  And, after some waiting, it turns out that I had finished in 4th, meaning I gained back my spots I had lost while I was out riding some extra credit fire road miles!

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All done!

In-race Fueling breakdown:

  • 2L Camelback with 6 scoops of Tailwind Nutrition caffeinated green tea mix
  • 24oz bottle refilled twice with plain water
  • half can of Coke
  • 3 Hammer Endurolyte tablets

Pre-race, since I had tons of time to kill between waking up at 6:30am and race start at noon I drank, drank, drank and drank some more water!  I think I peed 6-8 times before the race started!  I did do one bottle with a Hammer Fizz tablet in it so I would have electrolytes on board.  I ate half a bagel shortly after waking up, handful of gummy worms.  At 10am I had an Egg White McMuffin, Mcdonald’s hash brown, small Hi-C Orange drink, and small iced vanilla non-fat latte.  On the shuttle to Piedmont I ate half a Bonk Breaker PB&J bar.

I had… well, I just had no idea I could do something like this!  I haven’t been riding much, especially over the last 3 weeks since my crash.  The two days I rode before the race my legs screamed at me and I felt dead.  I almost considered not starting the race as I rode the day before around the campground… I felt that crappy.  I wonder how much becomes mental… like I’ve convinced myself so much that I’m “not” an “endurance” racer that I just go with no motivation or drive to keep pushing.  Just somehow for Tatanka it all clicked and finally things came together and I had one of my best races ever… nutrition, hydration, keeping the heat from defeating me.  Arghhhh, so happy!

So during a race season that hasn’t seemed to quite work out like I had planned, the Tatanka 50k ended up being a high point and giving me motivation to finish out the rest of my races with more positive thoughts!

Mr. Allosaurus is taking a bite out of South Dakota

Mr. Allosaurus is taking a bite out of South Dakota

 

Hog Heaven Campground is normally only open for the Sturgis motorcycle rally... but they let Tatanka racers stay there!

Hog Heaven Campground is normally only open for the Sturgis motorcycle rally… but they let Tatanka racers stay there!

 

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My awesome camp spot under a pine tree!

 

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On the way home I decided to check out the Flying V trails outside of Newcastle… well… if faint cow trails are your thing, here’s the system for you!

Understanding in a Bike Crash

(Thursday fans get the reference.)

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It’s probably the most sickening noise and sensation I have ever heard/felt… the sound of my head slamming into the asphalt at 29.1mph.  For four years I have lived in fear of the day I would crash on the road in a serious manner, so when I heard the brakes and clanking of alloy and carbon and human bodies in front of me my heart sank.  At the speeds we were traveling I had less than a second to react, and with no place to go, my only option was to follow the laws of physics, and launch off my bike (which had hit a bike in the road) and fly head first into the asphalt.  People told me I screamed, but I really don’t remember.  I just remember the sensation of my head slamming into the ground, and the instant pain in my left calf muscle.  I remember trying to stand and the pain being severe enough that I couldn’t and I grabbed for one of the other racers that was already back on his feet.  A WY Highway Patrolman rushed over and picked me up and carried me over the guardrail and laid me under the overpass.  He was amazing and attentive, grabbing his first aid supplies to clean the road rash on my knee and shoulder, and doing a quick neuro exam.  Before long I was carried by the patrolman into the back of an ambulance, and whisked away to the hospital.

All because of a flatten dead crow in the road.  I’ve always had severe trust issues during road events, whether it’s rides or races because really in all reality your well-being is reliant upon everyone around you. Some guy swerved when he saw the crow, the guy behind him touched wheels, more wheels touched, and there you had half the lead pack on the ground, and me in an ambulance…

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So the Dad Dog Road Race was actually going pretty well for me.  I decided to try to be smart this year, and not pull at all and just follow the moves.  Last year I had been dropped before the turn around, yet this year 34-35 miles in I was still with the lead pack and able to respond to surges in pace and attacks.  I was out to win it, and my plan was going well… until, you know… that crow.  That had be rotting and festering for days probably, under that underpass… flat as a pancake… so flat a road bike would have just rolled over it.  (I’m not bitter, really.  I just don’t have fear of running over flat objects with my road bike.)

So crashing… yes… there’s actually parts of being in the hospital that are fuzzy, conversations that I do not remember.  My head CT cleared me of any skull fractures or brain injuries, and numerous leg X-rays lead to the conclusion I had a calf muscle strain.  Out the door I went, hobbling on crutches.  Luckily I have a stash of dressings at home that have always sat there “just in case,” so I took it upon myself to clean out my road rash and slap Tegaderm on all of it, and then settled onto the couch for a night of Jurassic Park and “woe is me.”  I’m doing ok as of now, considering.  I can walk around with a limp, but I’m walking.  My left shoulder is probably one of the most problematic things, as I have little range of motion due to pain.  My wounds are healing, though still very tended.  My head is bruised and swollen, and I still feel fuzzy, but I’m surviving.

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This was the race report I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write.  In all honesty, I’m not sure when I’ll be comfortable riding, let alone racing, on the road with a large group of people again.  I just know it could’ve been so much worse (or could’ve not happened at all).  My Rudy Project Sterling helmet did it’s duty, taking the impact and cracking.  I’ve always been a strong advocate of helmet use and am uncomfortable even riding around the block without one, and now I unfortunately/fortunately know first hand why helmets are a must when on a bicycle.

Race Report: Gunnison Half Growler

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Photo by Dave Kozlowski

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!

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My “tent cabin!”

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Some pre-race miles before the rain

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!

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I’m one of the pink dots in there (Photo by Dave Kozlowski)

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?!

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My face is one of… non-amusement?  (Photo by Matt Burt)

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.

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Up and over some rocky feature (Photo by Matt Burt)

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.

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Train of racers (Photo by Matt Burt)

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.

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Don’t mind me, I’m just taking my bike for a walk on Rattlesnake (Photo by Dave Kozlowski)

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!

Woohoo!

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Woohoo! Half Growler 2016 done and done!

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!

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Some of us Naked girls post-race! (Photo: Michelle Hoffer)

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!

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Don’t worry, my post race nutrition was on point! Great dinner at Garlic Mike’s with teammates Brittany and Berta, and Berta’s husband Paul