Solidified

I knew I’d make up my mind eventually.

Saturday morning, I headed out in the rain to meet the guys from 901 Racing on their mostly social/partial hammer ride. It was sprinkling rain when I left, and alternately sprinkled/showered all the way to the meet-up spot in Midtown (unlike Breckenridge rain, when it rains here in August, the temperature stays well into the 80s). When I arrived at the coffee shop at 8:30, no one was there. I waited around for a few minutes, but, by 8:35, was tired of standing in the rain and figured they’d bailed because of the weather (I thought about waiting on the back porch of the coffee shop, but there were three people under there smoking. I’ll take rain over that). So, I rode back home, giving me nearly two hours of solo rain riding.

Turns out, they were all just really late.

I honestly didn’t care. I’m still recovering from Breck Epic- both physically and mentally. Physically, my legs are steadily gaining ground. They ache with hard efforts, but seem to be tracking back towards “beast mode” at a steady pace. Mentally, my transition back to the reality of non traveling/racing is an exercise in re-learning how to feign interest in the mundanity of everyday life. Unlike physical recovery, this isn’t a smooth, steady line of improvement. Suddenly, it’s time to deal with work, people, and not having the “job” of racing my bike 4-5 hours a day. It’s coming back slowly.

If you’ve been reading here the past week, you know I’m trying to make up my mind on a September schedule. I have tried not to stress this decision since I figure that it would become more obvious as time crept along. Like my previous indecision about the Pierre’s Hole race, the answer came to me during a ride. While I was soloing in the rain, I hashed through everything in my head with little to no interruption and was able to come up with a more concrete plan that seemed to settle well into my brain.

Next weekend is the Shenandoah 100. I don’t feel like driving to Virgina to race 100 miles. It’s one of my favorite courses and an even better party following the race, but the drive to get there takes longer than the race itself. Also, with the growing popularity of the race, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 people in attendance. It’s getting crowded. I could use the NUE points, but I just can’t convince myself that I want to go, and, as I’ve discovered in the past, if your head isn’t in it, bad things happen.

Also happening next weekend is a more local, shorter race- the School of Hard Nox 50. It’s in Mississippi. Depending on what Coach says to do, I might try that one. However, there may be one weather-related issue…

Race location:

The kicker:

I have no idea what the trail’s capacity is for terrible weather. So, the race’s fate rests in the hands of the weather and my coach. I’ll happily go either way.

The weekend after that is Fool’s Gold. Ryan and I are going to that (he’s decided to race the 50 mile version). While the start/finish location of the race makes it a terrible spot for a post-race party, the course itself is entertaining. It’s also the final race of the NUE series, so I get to say goodbye to all of my endurance racing friends for the winter.

Then what?

I’m going to Interbike. I can’t back out now- I’ve already bought the plane ticket and a pack of business cards. I’m flying out on the 18th and back on the 21st. I dread it, but, at the same time, I am relatively certain that I’ll have a good time. Hopefully, while I’m there, I can impress some important people with my endless charm and good looks.

The time following Fool’s Gold (encompassing Interbike) will likely contain my post-season break. Gotta rest before I start getting ready for cross…

Overnight change

Last night, I posted a “help wanted” in this spot looking for someone to help me out at the Pisgah Stage Race. Turns out, between the race entry, 7 nights in a motel, and potentially boarding the dogs for all/part of the trip (I’d originally thought that Ryan would be in town for the week), the cost of traveling and racing is just too much.

I’m still a little undecided on interbike, but motivation to find an epic adventure-friendly team is definitely high. Irons in the fire? Sure, I’ve got a couple cooking, but I’m not sure how hot the fire is under there. Anyone I talk to says they’ll know after Interbike.

I hate the frustration of indecision, but at least I’ve decided I can’t go to Pisgah.

Audience Poll

September is full off awesome stuff, race-wise. I can’t make up my mind, so I’m gonna ask the 200 or so people who read here on a daily basis and maybe take your advice into account when making my decision.

Schedule #1:
Sept 2nd: Shenandoah 100
15th: Pisgah Monstercross Challenge
17-22nd: Pisgah MTB Stage Race

Schedule #2:
Sept 2nd: Shenandoah 100
8th: Fool’s Gold 100
18th-21: Fly out to Interbike and “network”

Pros/Cons of either?
-First off, I hate flying, Vegas, and any sort of convention where people mill around like animals. I have, however, been told by more than one person who “knows” what they’re talking about that if I ever want to achieve the dream of becoming a professional cyclist that I need to get there and meet people in the industry. Ok, I get it.
-I haven’t had a chance to ride much at Pisgah other than ORAMM. I’m super stoked on tech/fun singletrack right now, and I loved stage racing, so the Pisgah Stage Race sounds like an awesome time.
-Ever since the repairs made to the singletrack at Fool’s Gold, I very much enjoy the race course.

So? What do you think? 1 or 2?  Comment here or on the Brickhouse Racing Facebook page (link over there to the right in the sidebar)

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.