Race Report: Old Man Winter Bike Rally

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Is it a ride, a rally, or a race?!  Well, the Old Man Winter Bike Rally is a bit of all three.  This is the third year of this event, and until now only the 100km course was timed (with generous equal payouts to the top 5 of each gender).  This year they also timed and placed the 50km course participants.  So you can show up on whatever bike you choose (there’s a mix of everything… road, cross, fat, mountain, tandems, etc), and decide what you want Old Man Winter to be on it’s awesome gravel, paved, and single track course.

Pearl Izumi, one of my AMAZING 2017 sponsors, was kind enough to extend an invitation for me to attend, and I gladly signed up for the 50km course.  I had tried the 100km event during the inaugural 2015 event, but pulled out after 25 miles because my 2x geared cross bike had a horrid lack of climbing gears and my knees hurt, and it was super windy.  I knew the 50km course was a lot flatter, which much of it coming from a road race course I have ridden before.    The weather was looking sunny, not too windy, and highs in the mid 40s, which is quite nice for it being winter in Colorado!  I once again chose my 2x Specialized Crux, as rain/snow was predicted for the night before, and I figure if it would be muddy at all I’d rather muck up that bike.

I really had no game plan, as I’ve been very much in a limbo this off season/base training season and haven’t been riding a bike very much at all.  And the big factor: this would be my first mass start road “race” since the crash last June.  I was very nervous to say the least.  I met up with a few teammates before the race and tried to get close to the front at the start.  Of course at the start some chick next to me decides to ride diagonally across everyone, so I concentrated on getting as far away from her as possible.  Then the pace truck… oh goodness, that person could not hold a constant speed during the several mile long “neutral” rollout, and alternated between 10-15mph and slowing to a near stop, which caused everyone in the peloton to panic brake and swear out loud.  Luckily we all stayed upright and out of trouble, but it was just flat out stupid (the start is on a false downhill flat and the first year I did this event we rolled out at 20+mph which would’ve been much more appropriate than trying to hold us at 10mph).

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Rolling out, doing something I swore I’d never do again! (Photo by Shawn Curry)

Finally we turned onto the gravel and instantly a switch flipped and I went into competitive road racer mode and took off and passed a hefty amount of people.  It hurt, but felt oh so good to put those high watts through my legs.  I love riding and racing on dirt and gravel roads with skinny tires, and instantly knew I could’ve rode my road bike with no issue since it was hard pack and FAST!  But I would make due with Hank Sr.  There were a lot of fast looking girls on the start line, so I tried to pick them off as best I could, but really had no idea how many were in front of me.

Soon I found myself pretty much riding along as the fields spread out.  I didn’t quite have the legs to hang onto most of the guys’ wheels, and the only other girl I had seen, Christen (a fellow PI Amabador), had sped off.  So I just settled into hammering and enjoying the sun on my face.  It’s actually a very pretty course in Boulder County, but I was busy concentrating on going fast, with an occasional glance at the scenery.

They added in a fun little loop at the Reeb Ranch that was part of the 2015 Blue Sky Cup cyclocross race.  This was the only time I saw riding a road bike being a disadvantage on the 50km course, as it was, well, cyclocross-y.  I really enjoyed this stretch, and playfully opened it up.  I would repass Christen, who had to walk her road bike on parts, but she quickly passed me back once we were back on the roads and sped off.  I settled in again, and tried to keep up with drinking my “naked” flavored Tailwind.  I came through an intersection, and a course marshal yelled at me “You’re the second woman through!”

Dammit.

Dammit dammit dammit

This might seem weird, but I hate when people tell me how I’m doing.  Mostly because it tends to be wrong information (like when I was told I was 4th during the Laramie Enduro when I was really 6th).  I yelled back, “What, really?!”  I reasoned with myself that the guy had probably just missed some women who maybe didn’t stick out with “girly” kit colors or something.  But it lit a fire under my ass.  What if I really was in 2nd?  Shoot, podium?!  What?  Time to hammer harder and ignore the pain!

The long paved drag into Hygiene was hard with a headwind and the resistance of knobby tires.  Turning and heading north was even harder because it’s the slightest uphill.  I got stopped at the red light at the intersection to take you back to Lyons, and I was super nervous that another girl would catch me (they enforced red lights since it wasn’t really a “race.”).  Luckily it changed fairly quickly, and for a few miles I was able to pace line with a few guys that also got caught a light.  Lee Waldman peeled off and gave me a good push, which made me laugh and I took to trying to stick with the other two guys.  I would peel off the back a few miles before Lyons, but still tried to keep the power up.  I ended up sprinting across the line as I didn’t want a guy behind me catching me (I don’t care who you are when it comes down to the finish line, male or female).

Luckily this was chip timed and I ran quickly over to the Race Rite table to print my results.

1:42:08.08 and 2nd place!!!

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EEEEEKKK!

OK, that was super awesome!!

Only regret was not racing a road bike, as I think that would’ve been more appropriate for the course conditions, but hey, it was fun to get out and hammer on a bicycle that I never otherwise ride like that – not to mention my ’12 Crux is just a comfy bike.  A power meter would’ve been nice as well.  Strava did do an estimated 204 watt average, which seems right, with a decent amount in the 220-240 range, which I agree is correct, as I’m familiar with how that power range feels.  Most of this race felt like a solo time trial effort, and my heart rate certainly showed that!

Old Man Winter is just such a fun event.  You get awesome socks with your entry, and beer and a meal afterwards.  I also find it great to see friends, teammates, and the photographers in the off season and get caught up on the happenings!

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!

And then it was all over!

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That’s a wrap on 2016’s cyclocross season!

December 3rd was the Rocky Mountain Regional Championships.  Super cold weather, I think maybe about 28 degrees or so for my 10:30am single speed race.  I decided to race both single speed and then women’s open to give my geared bike some love.

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I love love love the course used at regionals! (Photo by Shawn Curry)

Needless to say, single speed went well and I won!  And for the first time I ever I did a proper post up!  I love the course at this venue, even though it’s not super technical and just involves a lot of power riding.  This venue is where I had my first ever USAC cross podium back in January 2014, so I’ve just always been very fond of it.

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In SW Open I realized that riding a geared bike is a lot of hard work.  On the single speed I would be spun out on some parts, and it would be a bit of recovery.  With gears there’s always a harder gear to grab and keep pushing.  My average heart rate was around 190 for the 40+ minute race!  I went back and forth with a couple of other gals for a few laps, but the previous race was felt in my legs, and I hung on for 14th, which wasn’t last.  It was one of the first times I’ve really felt comfortable racing in the open category.

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My geared cross bike is just too pretty to not race once in awhile! (Photo by Brent Murphy)

Next up was states.  This would be the last chance for me to earn points for the Colorado Cross Cup, which I had set up to win, but I knew it would be hard with the depth of talented women in the single speed category.  My SSW race was at 3:30 on Saturday.  I actually didn’t feel like I had a good start, and I crashed hard on a grass corner that I took a little too hot.  I lost two positions, but was able to regain one of them on one of the (too) many cement/pavement sections.  I took beer hand ups on the final 3 laps, and enjoyed the beating of a really physically draining course.  I would finish 5th, which I’m happy about.

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The states course at Westminster City Park had a massive stair run up split in two… run up, ride up grassy off camber, run up some more. (Photo by Shawn Curry)

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The “backside” of the states course had a couple of super steep punchy climbs (Photo by Shawn Curry)

The next day on Sunday I awoke to snow, which was exciting!  My 8am race was the inaugural fat bike race, a non-championshp category.  I figured this would be just a fun race and a chance to ride around on my Dirt Components Thumper carbon wheelset.  Unfortunately I would have another very nasty crash on the first lap, and my left arm yanked around behind me and tweaked my shoulder which I had just completed two months of physical therapy on for the split bicep tendon I have.  I came through the start finish, and Larry (the announcer) called the medics over.  I was crying and felt like a hot mess, and so mad that I had wrecked and re-injured my shoulder.  But I pulled on my big girl skinsuit panties, and got back on my bike for another couple of laps!  Turns out my rear tire would also go flat, so I had to run maybe the last half mile of the final lap.  Man, it just wasn’t my race!

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At least it was fat bike weather for the fat bike race! (Photo by Brent Murphy)

 

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Running my bike through the finish (Photo by Reid Neureiter)

For once I was smart and decided to not start my SW3 race at 10:30.  My shoulder was very tender, and I didn’t want to risk hurting it further.  Plus with two hard crashes and two leg draining races already under my belt, I was tired.

Race season 2016… officially done!

I would end up finishing in 2nd place in single speed for the Colorado Cross Cup.  Like the Shimano CycloX Series, I would miss winning by three points (if only I had earned the points I was banking on at Blue Sky Cup… sigh).  Kind of heartbroken over this, but I can’t really complain about having a cyclocross season that was like no other I had ever had!

4 wins… 9 podiums… 20 races total.

Whew.  So this is what a full cross season feels like!

Big thanks to my über supportive team, 9Seventy Racing; Rufus Design for working with me on an amazing custom skinsuit design; Dirt Components; Specialized Bicycles; Tailwind Nutrition; Qloom Bikewear; and all the photographers that comprise RacerShots that fulfilled my narcissistic race photo loving hopes and dreams!