Next?

So, now that I’ve conquered The Epic, what do I do for an encore?

I think that this trip solidified my wishes to (next season) leave 100 mile racing to people who enjoy racing for >7 hours at a time. I like the 3-6 hour timeframe. I like stage racing. I like stuff that’s really damn hard.

I’m entered in the Shenandoah 100 and Fools Gold 100 right now. Both are terrible singlespeed courses if you’re racing geared riders (especially the SM100). With races scheduled 1 week apart, I’m not sure which I’m planning on doing, but I’m leaning more towards Fool’s Gold. Both, you say? Yeah, of course I’m thinking about going to both. It’s sooooooo much driving, though…

Then there’s always the Pisgah Stage Race the 17th-22nd. I loved riding the tech stuff at Breck. Maybe I’d love Pisgah more?

I don’t know… I’ll probably figure it out the week before Shenandoah.

Breck Epic- Stage 7

Stage 7?

What- haven’t you ever heard of the 19th hole on the golf course?

When I started the Breck Epic, I didn’t even know that there was something called “Stage 7.” I did, however, know that up until this point, I’ve trained my ass off, been early to bed/rise, sacrificed the consumption of many beers and all sorts of highly caloric food, and proceeded to race harder than I ever thought possible. All of those things, when combined in a chronic manner, can lead to burnout. I’m not saying that I’m burnt out by any stretch, I’m just saying that I have fully celebrated Stage 7 in a way that is satisfying to the burnout-prevention soul.

Last night, after the final awards ceremony, I headed over to a local dive bar with a bunch of other racers. I had a couple of beers (really- just a couple… they’re stronger at altitude) and proceeded to dance to cheesy pop club music for at least the next two hours. Today, I had breakfast at the Blue Moose (favorite breakfast place in Breck), sat by the river and drank coffee, laid around for a while, and ate lunch at Empire Burger. They have an all-natural, local beef burger. I got one with fries. Gawd, it’s to die for.  After a short ride, I lounged around, packed, and met the last remaining racers I knew still in town for pizza (and a couple more beers).

It’s all about decompression. The mental aspect of preparing for and executing a race like the Breck Epic is equally as hard as the physical aspects. Of course, I love doing it. I also love acting like a normal human being for a few days after it. Tomorrow, I’m heading back towards Memphis. I still love Memphis, and I still consider the Syllamo Trails to be more difficult (technically speaking) than anything I’ve found on my most recent adventure.

Ok, so maybe the high pass, over-the-treeline descents are more terrifying. At least there aren’t as many rocks up there. The rocks around here don’t get slippery when they’re wet, either.

I’ll be sad to leave, but I miss home equally as much as I don’t want to leave here. Hopefully, next summer will include more Epic-ness and adventure.

 

Breck Epic- Stage 6

The final stage of the Epic was an “easy” course day, with only around 3500ft of climbing. At last night’s singlespeeder get-together at the burrito place, most of the guys agreed that today was a parade lap- sort of like the last stage of the Tour de France, but with PBR instead of champagne, and no sprint at the end.

Jen and I talked a little at the start. It was kind of an “I’ll race if you’re racing” thing, but we ended up just hanging out & riding together at a pretty easy pace for the duration of the course. We had our battle yesterday- She didn’t really let on to how she felt, but I was pretty wrecked. So, she was nice on the climbs, and I ceased to descend like I had a death wish. We stopped at the Boreas Pass aid station and took a shot of Maker’s Mark. It made the final descent- a slightly rocky & gnarly jeep road- a little more interesting.

After hanging around at the finish and watching some more racers come through, I headed back up to the condo to un-chamois and eat some lunch. It’s now that I’m sitting around back at the condo with nothing to do that I realize I can act like a normal person for a few days instead of worrying about getting an afternoon nap, getting enough post-race calories, getting the right type of calories, getting plenty of electrolytes with my water, making sure my bike is ready for tomorrow, or whatever else it is that needs to be taken care of the afternoon following the other 5 stages.

I’ve got 2 more hours to kill before the last awards ceremony and nothing to do but think about what a great week of racing it’s been. I think I’ll have a beer.

Breck Epic- Stage 5

Today’s stage was shorter than the previous four. It wasn’t without it’s challenges, though…

We actually didn’t do that first little bump at the beginning. Something about permits and insurance & whatnot for where the course was to be routed. Instead, we started at a ski resort at the base of the Breckenridge ski hill. With the changes to the course, the start would take us briefly across the hill before hitting a wide singletrack, rooty/rocky trail and beginning the ~2000ft climb to the top over Wheeler Pass. Without much room for sorting of racers, the promoter opted to start us in waves. I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind the order of waves after the Open Men, but the singlespeed women ended up in the last wave.

As I mentioned in my previous report, I was starting to feel good.

We were on the gas from the gun. As soon as we were on the trail, Jen (the woman leading the GC and winner of stages 1-4) took off up the climb, and I kept pace. We hit race traffic almost immediately. Most people did their best to move as quickly as possible, but sometimes it meant taking a rough/punchy line instead of a smoother one (Pleeeeeeeease don’t throw me in the briar patch). I was able to get around Jen when she spun out on a root (I think). I had a decent gap up the remainder of the trail until we made it to a service road. At that point, she had caught up to me and motored ahead up the road. I tried to chase, but ended up popping and nearly having to stop.

Once I regained my composure, I began getting back into a rhythm and grinding my way up the hill. I eventually made it to the next piece of singletrack that would eventually lead up and over the pass. It was periodic riding/hiking that eventually turned into a long hike-a-bike. I could see Jen waaaay in the distance, but as I continued, it seemed like the gap was getting smaller. I was hiking as hard as I possibly could and riding at every feasible spot. I imagine you’d get a similar feeling if you were trying to use a lightweight flyrod to catch a giant tuna.

As we neared the top, we raced almost all the way through the open women’s field (who had started several minutes ahead of us). I passed Jen and ended up one rider/hiker back from Open class leader Amanda Carey. Amanda took off down the mountain- a super fast, sketchy as hell descent-followed by a couple of guys. I regained my composure (again), mounted my bike, and followed. I know from geeking out with Strava that I could get a solid lead on Jen if I descended well.

I can say now that I’m a little terrified of descents from the high passes. The steep, treeless landscape totally screws with my head and makes it seem like someone has taken my field of vision and rotated it 45 degrees. Everything actually went well until I made it into the trees. At that point, there are periodic rocky sections, and the trail is bench cut. Somehow, as I negotiated some rocks, my bike and I were ejected from the trail. I flew through a really scratchy shrub and belly flopped onto a rock. It bruised my hip/belly and split my knee open. It hurt like hell, but I peeled myself out of the bushes and made haste before I lost more time.

Once I was at the bottom, It was onto a local paved bike path- A.K.A. Singlespeeder purgatory.

The path goes on for several miles at a slight downgrade. I spun/coasted repeatedly and tucked down as tightly as possible all the way to Frisco, where the trail turned off and led to the final push up the Peaks Trail back into Breck. The Peaks Trail reminds me a lot of Syllamo- short climbs, some kinda steep, with lots of rocks (it has lots of roots, too, which isn’t really a Syllamo thing, but they ride pretty similarly). It is, quite possibly, my most favorite trail of the entire race. I had no idea if Jen was making up time on me, so I attacked it with everything that I had left.

Watch more video of 2012 Breck Epic Stage Race on cyclingdirt.org

I ended up being the 2nd female finisher overall (5 minutes behind Amanda Carey). Winning means gaining a little time (11 minutes or so?) on Jen. Not nearly enough to make a difference in the GC, but days like today are the ones I’ve trained for. This is why I spend hours beating the pavement in 100 degree heat or sweating intervals out on the trainer.

Breck Epic- Stage 4

I’m starting to get settled into a routine. The only thing I don’t like is that my routine begins with me waking up at 6:00am feeling like total crap. Since Monday, I barely feel like I can get out of the bed, my stomach doesn’t want me to eat, and, no matter how many cups of coffee I mainline, my head stays foggy and tired. I’ve given up on trying to eat a “normal” breakfast of eggs or anything hearty. Instead, I’ll go for a Clif Bar for breakfast and a shot of gel while I’m rolling around waiting for the race to start. Then, we line up and we’re off up a mountain, and I feel better within the first few minutes.

Today, I felt great within the first few minutes. I realized early on that I was riding with people that I was not used to riding with because they’d been ahead of me on previous stages. For the first few miles, I was getting the climb/descend accordion effect with Jen, the woman leading my race. Unfortunately, she left me behind going up the first ridiculous hike-a-bike after the first aid station.

After that, I had an excellent day. I figured out about halfway through that I must be finally acclimating to the higher altitude, because I was going up climbs feeling like I was at sea level. Most of them, anyway…

 

Watch more video of 2012 Breck Epic Stage Race on cyclingdirt.org

 

At this point, I’m happy to sit back and see where the combination of acclimating and eventual fatigue will lead. It’d be nice to pull off a stage win, but Jen climbs like nobody’s business- both on and off of her bike (she’s gotta have a solid 4″ of leg length on me). Two more short(er) stages to go…

Breck Epic- Stage 3

The weather overnight took a turn for the better, and the skies were clear and mild as usual for the duration of stage 3.

This one has been my favorite so far. (It begs to be run as an Enduro)

After the obligatory climb/push up some mining roads, we rode French Gulch backwards. It’s a hell of a lot more fun in that direction! Then, we climbed/pushed (a lot) up and over French Pass. At the top, Jeff Kerkove was up there handing out Skittles (the video is a little long… I make a cameo at about 5 minutes in). Coming down from one of the high passes like this one is an incredible mix of exhilaration and terror. The singletrack is super narrow and steeper than it looks, so as soon as you let off of the brakes, you’re instantly going mach 11ty.

After that, it was more climbing- this time, on a slightly less rocky/steep forest road. It topped out at a little over 11k feet before we took the turn onto another section of Colorado Trail. The trail was mostly downhill. The top was flowy and smooth, and it became rockier and gnarlier the last couple of miles. Some people were a little put off by the rocks. I felt like Brer Rabbit in a brier patch.

I think I’m getting the hang of this “go downhill for longer than 30 seconds at a time” thing.

The remainder of the course was pretty straightforward up & down on jeep trails into town. I rolled in at 5 hours and change, 15 minutes behind 1st (maybe an improvement based on the increased techy-ness of today’s descents?)

Watch more video of 2012 Breck Epic Stage Race on cyclingdirt.org

I’m solidly in 2nd place now and enjoying the stage race adventure. I’ve figured out that this is like an extended version of riding my first 100 mile MTB race. I entered it with expectations of racing, and I quickly realized that I needed to settle down and find out my own personal limits and start pushing them a little at a time.

Breck Epic- Stage 2

Stage 2 will go down in Breck Epic history as an “Epic” weather day. The weather at the start was 44 and about to rain. As we passed under the start gate, the rain also started, and, as the day wore on, it never stopped. The race course began by pitching up to 11k feet within the first 8 miles, descending, then climbing back up to nearly 12k on the Colorado trail (check out the map/profile here).

As I was alternately pushing/riding up the Colorado Trail, my hands started to go numb, though, at the time, I wasn’t too uncomfortable. However, at the top, it was really cold and pouring rain. I had my jacket on, but couldn’t zip it because my fingers weren’t working. I ended up stopping after the first few downhill switchbacks of the trail and asking other riders for help. Everyone’s hands had turned to ice flippers at that point, so it took a team effort, but my jacket got zipped.

The race turned into hypothermic attrition.

As I continued down the Colorado Trail descent, my entire body numbed, and my brain started to follow. I felt like I was watching a GoPro video of someone ripping down a mountain. After that, the remainder of the course was a blur of pushing, riding, shivering, and trying to look on the bright side… hey, at least it’s only 40 miles, and not 100.

I feel like I’m racing 3 of the toughest women possible. It never once crossed my mind that any of them would drop out of the race. Once again, I finished a solid second- well off of 1st, and a smaller chunk ahead of 3rd.

Days like that will break you if you let them. I was so glad that it was over, then so cold on the ride from the finish back to the condo that I cried for a minute as I descended back into town. Then, I realized that A) crying washed the sand and mud out of my eyes, which, at the time, felt f*cking amazing and B) if I didn’t pay attention as I rode into town, I was going to get run over by a car. So, I pulled myself together and made my way back home safely. The 2nd hardest part of the day was actually getting into the building with ice flippers for hands (thanks to Thom from Cyclingdirt for the phrase “ice flippers”)  I had to unzip my jacket (I’d just put it on over my camelbak), unbuckle the pack, unzip the pocket that contained my room key card, then use the card to get into the building. Somehow, I managed, though it took women’s tennis-style grunting to muster the effort for each move.

Breck Epic- Stage 1

Yeah, I skipped a day. I’ve hardly got the capacity to type this post, though.

Today’s stage- Pennsylvania Gulch- included a little bit of the Marathon Nationals course that I rode two years ago. That meant we had the pleasure of climbing French Gulch… and by climbing, I mean pushing my bike for an extended period of time.

With the course length of 38 miles, I opted to carry water in a camelback and a bottle full of kinda strong Gu Roctane. The camelback would let me basically forgo using drop bags since I could carry a gel flask, powerbar, some shot blocks, and the “mandatory for high-elevation backcountry riding” lightweight windbreaker. It worked out well, though now that I’ve got a feel for pacing, I may use bottles for stages after tomorrow (long stretch of Colorado Trail, big gap between aid stations).

The course today was relentless.

 

As I mentioned before, I felt great, but I realized 1.5-2 hours in that I needed to back off a bit in order to not destroy myself on the first day out. I knew that there was a woman ahead of me, but it’s a long, long race, and I’m really new to the energy budget-ing required for the week. So, I started walking a little more. It’s sometimes a little hard to convince yourself to hop off the bike when you know that a relatively brief redline effort would get you up the hill in front of you. I felt slow, but hopefully it’ll keep me going strong for the remaining 5 days.

Most of the day was a blur of climbing, pushing, and descending hairy, rowdy, rock-covered jeep roads. Repeatedly. I ended up finishing in 4 hours, 42 minutes… nearly half an hour back from 1st place. Not exactly a great place to be in a stage race. We’ve still got 5 days of racing, though, so hopefully the “half an hour back” trend won’t continue. Whether it does or not, this is shaping up to be one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever taken on.

 

 

Pierre’s Hole 50 Race Report

Saturday morning, I woke up feeling hungover.

Quick physiology lesson- when you go to altitude, there’s NOT less oxygen in the air. The air pressure is simply lower. The lower pressure means that there’s less of a drive to force oxygen across the membranes in your lungs, so you end up with less oxygen in your blood. When you arrive at altitude, your body’s first reaction is to attempt to concentrate your blood by dumping water out. It’s a lot like what happens when you drink alcohol, just at a slower rate. It can, however, result in a similar headache/run down feeling like what you’d get with a hangover.

I remember last time I was at altitude that a few days in, I had a similar morning. I took the morning off, had an early lunch at a greasy spoon in Cimmaron,  NM, an relaxed a bit. I felt better by that afternoon, and from there I continued to feel more “normal” with the ~7000ft of altitude.

Saturday, I had to race. At 6am, I felt pretty rotten. Luckily, the race didn’t start until 10:15. I had time to take some aspirin, mainline several gigantic cups of coffee, and make a delicious omelet that included feta cheese and leftover roasted sweet potatoes. I felt slightly better about the time I started packing the car to leave.

In the race parking lot, there were a lot of other women. I have no idea how many other women were racing, but it was a lot more than any other race- local or 100- than I’m accustomed to. They all looked strong. I fought off intimidation by thinking about how hard I’ve trained leading up to this race. I readied myself and rolled around for a little while to warm up. The race started like Syllamo on steroids… straight up a 500 foot climb on the ski hill access road then down a really fast descent. Everyone wanted to get to the singletrack first.

 

I rolled up to the start area and weaseled my way up to almost the front. It was a good spot- only one other woman was ahead of me, so I knew I could keep an eye on everyone and have an idea of my placing as we cruised up the hill. It was a good strategy. When the race finally started, I rode at my own, hard pace. I could see the woman who was ahead of me, and one other passed me, so I managed to enter the singletrack in 3rd place.

The descent from there down is the “mill creek” section. It takes about 20 minutes to get down and begins with several swoopy downhill switchbacks… the ones I wasn’t very comfortable with negotiating. This time, though, there was a guy ahead of me that was actually holding me up. He wasn’t being totally slow… just cautious. The ground was incredibly dry and dusty, so it was very hard to see the trail ahead in the crowd of riders. Eventually, the slow-ish guy overshot a turn, and I passed him. I increased the speed a bit, and made it down quickly (and even got a compliment from the local guy behind me for picking good lines).

The next part of the course was a paved road climb. I paced myself at about 8.5 mph. During the next few miles of climbing, I was back and forth with several women- one of them on a singlespeed. I was unaware that there was a women’s singlespeed category for the 50 mile. Would I have done it? I dunno… both the women who passed me were riding 32×20, and, as I’d found out earlier in the week, that was too much for my level of fitness/acclimatization.

We then descended Bustle Creek, which dropped down lower than the road we’d just climbed. Again, the track was so dusty that you couldn’t really see the ground. There were a lot of washouts and holes that I narrowly missed by blindly following the guy in front of me that looked like he knew where he was going. The course then cut through a ranch and climbed back up some doubletrack. Amanda had previously described the climb to me as “soul-crushing.” It was hard, and, in some spots, very steep. It was there that I caught up with another woman on a singlespeed. I passed her when she walked the steep spot at the start of the climb, then she caught me in the middle, then I left her again on the steep spot at the top. I thought she was gone, but she caught back up and passed me as I tried to recover on the road climb that followed the doubletrack out of Bustle.

As I cruised in to the last aid station on the loop, Evan Plews, the men’s 100 mile leader, passed me. As we both drifted towards the aid area, he yelled at me to GET OUTTA THE WAY.

Uh, yeah dude.

The last part of the loop was a swoopy, rolling trail with a couple of rocky patches. I realized there that I was getting more comfortable with the higher speeds of the mountain hills vs. the ones I was used to back home. I passed back through the start/finish area, topped off a bottle, and headed back out for another loop. A couple of miles down the trail, I realized that I was feeling overly tired. I’d neglected to eat much during the last section of trail. Knowing that the long descent was approaching, I made the decision to pull off the trail and cram a powerbar. While I was doing that, another woman rolled past me. I got back on the trail and started to reel her back in. I noticed that I was getting the most time back on the technical and downhill spots. Within a few minutes, I was on her wheel, and she let me by. It was motivation enough to send me flying down Mill Creek at breakneck speed (I caught a couple of guys who had passed me back before the start/finish).

P.S. The Jet9 RDO LIVES for descents like Mill Creek.

The next climb was mostly a solo effort. I knew there was at least one woman coming for me, so I kept the pace going. It wasn’t until the second time up Bustle Creek that I saw another female racer. I started reeling her in. When I passed her, I tried to look like I wasn’t sweating out of my eyeballs and breathing like an exhausted racehorse. Once I was back on the road, the caffeine from the gel I’d eaten at the bottom was starting to kick in, and I pushed the pace a bit until I reached the top.

After a quick stop at the last aid station, I headed back out for the last few miles of course. Suddenly, my right thigh cramped itself into a giant knot. I yelled at it and beat it with my fist. It eventually calmed down enough that I kept going, though it kept threatening to cramp again whenever I’d go uphill. I backed off, but then realized that the last woman I’d passed was a couple of switchbacks behind me. I was going to beat her or lock up completely while trying. My hail mary strategy was to stand up every climb and push a hard gear. Sounds odd, I know, but the cramping was worse if I sat and spun.

Thankfully, it worked.

I rolled across the line in 5:33. Thirty minutes behind the winner, and good enough for 6th place overall (They placed me as 4th women’s open, but 2 women in the singlespeed category finished ahead of me as well). I was exhausted and stoked.

Stoked with 6th? Yeah. Why? Well, since CX season ended, my races have basically been solo efforts. Either everyone is a lot faster than me or a lot slower than me. I haven’t had the chance to actually be competitive and race with other women. So, yeah. I’m super stoked. I left everything out on course.

Watch more video of 2012 Pierre’s Hole 100 NUE on cyclingdirt.org

 

Riverside Classic XC Race Report

In my quest for more high-intensity training, I decided to pack the Toaster with bikes and Poolboy Matt and drive over Friday night after work to Little Rock for a cross country race at Burns Park. There are generally a few more women who ride in that area, so I was hoping for a competitive field. It was well after dark when we arrived, so we were both basically riding the course sight unseen (Other than riding through the park during an adventure race back in 2009, I wasn’t familiar with the trails at all).

I’d talked to Todd “Antique Gun Show” Henne earlier in the week, and he’d told me to ride singlespeed 32×19. After chatting with other people in the area, I wasn’t totally sold on what gear to ride, so I decided to take the A9RDO with all the gears. Given the lumpy and sharp nature of the ground at Burns Park, next time, I might bring all of the suspension as well.

There ended up being six Cat 1 women at the line (3 of which were in the age group up from mine). The race started by climbing up the pavement before dropping into the woods on singletrack. From the gun, the a couple of the ladies seemed eager to hammer up the hill. Just as the lactic acid was searing through my quads, I stood to finish it off singlespeed-style… (photos courtesy of ArkansasOutside.com)

 

As we turned and dropped into the woods, the other ladies fell in behind me. I assumed that since they were all somewhat local that they’d ridden the course before. I tried not to let on that I had no earthly idea what was around any of the next corners. I could hear chains slapping behind me, so I knew that I wasn’t hiding it too well.

 

Luckily, the trail gave way to a good power section with some lumpy soil and a little bit of a hill or two. The chain noise grew more faint, and within a few minutes, I was alone. I rode hard for a while, trying to pay attention to the various features of the trail so that I could negotiate them faster and conserve more energy during subsequent laps. At 36 minutes in, I passed through the pit/finish area for the first time and began lap 2 of 3.

The next two laps, my mind tended to wander away from the race. I’d suddenly realize that I was not pedaling as hard as I could and reign it back in to the task at hand. That was essentially how my last hour or so of racing played out.

 

I felt strong the whole time, and I was tired when I was finished, so I must have done something right.

(photo courtesy of Alyssa Journey)

 

Intervals are nice & all, but it’s always fun to interject some race intensity for giggles. The racing, combined with the last few weeks of hard training I’ve banged out in an effort to get ready for altitude, has taken a little more out of me than I was expecting. Today, I had full intentions of knocking out a 4hr road/1hr trainer workout, but figured out 2 hours into the road riding that I was more tired than I needed to be. So, I pulled the plug and decided to relax and write this blog post instead.

On the bright side, I’m soooooo glad I didn’t race ORAMM on Sunday.